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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

From the Army of the Potomac 1864

From the Army of the Potomac.
 Near Bottom's Bridge, June 11th, 1864.
It seems hard to realize that I am writing on almost the same ground as that occupied by the old "Empire Battery" two years ago. Really, some changes have come over since then, when we stole around through the underbrush and low pines to get a sly shot at the rebels across the Chickahominy. And when we opened on a rebel battery, lying on the other end of the railroad bridge, making them " skedaddle" with indecent celerity, we deemed it true that we had certainly done a big thing. And it was quite an achievement for such greenhorns as we were when. It was not till after the bloody baptism of Seven Pines that we realized the idea of battle. And here let me say that I have never experienced anything, even in this campaign of campaigns, which could compare with that fearful struggle. So here we are on the classic grounds of the Chickahominy. Two years have sped by, two crimson years. We have hoped and struggled and bled, and now, like a benighted traveler, we emerge from the wilderness to find ourselves walking in the same path we left but an hour ago. We are no nearer the rebel capital today than we were two years ago. Under ordinary circumstances this fact might be discouraging, but though we are even further from Richmond than we were two years since, we feel, we believe, we know we are nearer the end of the rebellion than at that time. There is naught pleasant in this desolate region, dotted on every knoll and hillock with the graves of our comrades, but there is an expression on the countenance of each bronzed veteran telling a different tale from that look which sat upon many faces in '62, when the Army of the Potomac dragged its slow length along at the rate of a mile a day. We all believe that the doom of the rebellion is scaled. We hope that this summer may put Richmond in our hands, and so the army is cheerful, even here in the ill-fated Chickahominy country. The army of the Potomac occupies ground near that held by McClellan in 1862, but it occupies the country in a totally different manner. There is life, energy and action in the army now. It fights and marches in downright earnest. We are in the Chickahominy swamps now, but we shall not lie here all summer, except for a purpose.
It is unnecessary for me to state, even as far as I know, the exact disposition of our troops. Be assured, however, that we do not consider this campaign ended. You may hear of new and unexpected developments at any day. I do not think Lee will act off the defensive, and General Grant will keep him busy. In the vicinity of Cold Harbor our lines are very close to the enemy, so close in fact, that the sharpshooters control every foot of the breastworks. In front of the 2d, 6th, 9th and 18th | corps, earthworks of the strongest kind have been thrown up in opposition to those of the enemy, and everything wears the aspect of a siege. It is not at all probable, however, that the siege of Richmond will be commenced at such a distance from the town, if it is Grant's intention to besiege it at all — The campaign has reached a most important crisis, and must now assume a different character. From the wide field between the Rapidan and Richmond, which afforded scope and range for Grant's splendid genius, the scene of war is transferred to a narrow strip of country corrugated and honeycombed with the productions of military engineering, and these works filled with soldiers and bristling with the most approved and destructive engines of war. Grant's irresistible logic has reduced and sifted the military problem down to the comparatively simple issue of a siege. All the vague, uncertain probabilities and chances which hung like an impending mist over the armies of the Rapidan have vanished like the mist. Then, Lee threatened invasion of the North. He stood on vantage ground, holding in his hands like reins the railroads of Central and Western Virginia. He was accessible to strong strategic points on every hand.— His army had the encouragement of prestige. If not the prestige of victory, the prestige of baffling a powerful foe. All these have gone; and now the boastful Army of Northern Virginia is weltering behind the sand works of Richmond, tired and worn, shorn of prestige, but still desperate and determined. And still, with ceaseless energy and undivided purpose, their terrible enemy keeps pounding at the door of their citadel. The memory of Vicksburg cannot have faded from the memories of the Richmond rebels. True, it will be a different undertaking to capture Richmond, but in no emergency has Grant's genius failed him yet. It may require a long time to accomplish the reduction of Richmond. The allies were many months before Sebastopol. Richmond may prove the Sebastopol of the rebellion, I will not venture to predict the time and manner of its fall, but will only record my full faith in Grant's ability to put a girdle around Richmond. All he needs is the full support of the Government and the people of men and means. Without these, he is helpless.
Since my last letter, the 5th corps has had but little fighting to do, and there have been no general engagements. The enemy back during the week made several desperate assaults on our position, but has always met with severe repulses. There have been comparatively few casualties, and those mostly from chance shots. The cannonading along the lines his been, at intervals, breaking suddenly the stillness of the night, or bursting forth at midday. All day long we hear the continued cracking of the sharpshooters' rifle's and the popping of skirmishers, while occasionally at night we will suddenly be aroused from sleep by an alarm on the picket, and ugly, spiteful volleys of musketry, fired at un-seen objects in the dark. We listen to the singing of the bullets till our nerves are grown quiet again, then turn over to uneasy slumbers. The days are very tedious. Only once in a great while can we get hold of a paper, and the mails come when they can be brought without interfering with the necessary transportation. But the regularity with which the general details of this army are managed, is perfectly astonishing. Forage has been short sometimes, but that occurred while we were in Winter quarters. Our animals have suffered from the lack of hay, which is never supplied on the march, but look very well indeed.
A few days since, I had the pleasure of meeting some of the 146th Regiment, which is attached to Gen. Smith's command. They have had hard fighting to do under Butler, but have been in no general engagement in this department. As the regiment still retains the able pen of your correspondent "Gene " to describe its joys and sufferings, I will not enter into details concerning it. Since the engagement of June 2d, I have learned further particulars concerning the part taken in the fight by the 24th N. Y. cavalry, now attached to Gen. Burnside's corps. Had they fought well as mounted cavalry, it would have earned them laurels, but inasmuch as they repulsed three fierce, distinct charges, and held their ground with seven companies against a much larger rebel force, till ordered to withdraw, their cavalrymen acting as infantry, sent out to reinforce Grant in his hardest struggle have thrice earned their laurels. They deserve triple praise at the hands of all, and should, as a reward for their good conduct,, be quickly mustered and allowed to fight in the capacity for which they enlisted. The 24th dismounted Cavalry, composed in good part of Oneida county men, old members of the 14th, 26th, 34tb, 35th, etc, be remembered, can fight on foot for the cause, and facing rebel infantry, beat them back with confusion and slaughter. I have been unable to procure a list of the losses in the 24th, but I know that Lieut; col. Newberry and Capts. Palmer and Coventry are all safe. They are all very anxious to get horses but all face the enemy in any capacity till such time as the Government can procure them their desired outfit.
Yours for our country; D.F.R.
-Utica Morning Herald

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