Bottom's Bridge, Va.,
June 14, 1864.
My Dear Friend: — Since my last letter, three weeks ago, we have been on the march nearly all the time, on picket or in bivouac at seven or eight points— all places without name or inhabitant. Generally, we have been in close proximity to the enemy, but have exchanged no shots with them. Their gunboats, however, are constantly shelling the country right and left, night and day, and their big explosives oblige us sometimes to move further off.
Since the 6th of May, the Battery horses have been worked so hard, and the supply of forage often short, that the poor creatures are now low in flesh. Besides, in the several engagements, we have lost a number, so that we have not now the usual complement of six horses to a gun, the supply being reduced to four to some of them. It is necessary at times, therefore, for the cannoneers to have to spring to the wheels, and help the cannon out of a mudhole or up a steep hill.
Now, Drewry's Bluff hill, the one leading down to the pontoon from the Fort, is one of the steepest and hardest pulls the horses have had to encounter anywhere. And as we have been over it a good many times recently, and sometimes in rain, which makes the condition of the hill worse, the horses have had a hard time making their way up, with all the help the cannoneers could give them. And, of course, there are some men who complain heavily at having to help the horses. Some of them say, if the Government is going to make horses of them, they want a set of harness. I think the cannoneers will never quite forget that hill at old Drewry's Bluff, and the hard labor they have had there, pushing at the wheels to help the horses along, the wheels, in the meantime, encased in mud, and the clay of the hill made soap-like and slippery from rain. There is danger in it to the men, as well as hard and hand-soiling work.
The fortification of Drewry's Bluff is built upon the aforesaid high hill, the highest point of land, I suppose, on the banks of the James river anywhere below Richmond. The hill towers up high over the channel of the river, which here runs very near inshore, and it forms an admirable place for a strong defensive work. The old Galena and the rest of the Federal fleet found it too strong for them, in May, 1862, and the best ironclads that Butler has here now do not meddle much with the place. It is a strong defensive work, and the gate to the Capital of the Confederacy by water.
Grant, with his grand army of 150,000, all amply equipped for offensive warfare, has been trying his highest skill, and best strategic art, to overpower or out- general "Marse" Bob, from the 6th of May to the present, but about all he has been able to do so far, has been to execute a series of wonderful en echelons by the left flank— by the left flank from the wilderness to Cold Harbor and the muddy Chickahominy. A series of battles as terrible as any that have been fought during the progress of this war have occurred, and, with all his trying to pass Lee's flank, Lee keeps up with him, and his army is still between Grant and Richmond.
The last great battle was that of Cold Harbor, in which it is reported that the Federal army sustained an overwhelming defeat. All day long the noise of the battle— the roll of musketry and the booming of cannon— was plainly heard at our camp, and we were in constant expectation of orders to proceed in that direction. Since then Grant's army has apparently been taking a rest. But it is thought that Grant is about to change his base of operations, either to the York or to the James. Every crossing-place on the Chickahominy is being guarded by our forces, and Lightfoot's Battalion is scattered, by company or by section, at several points. Our Battery is now at Bottom's Bridge, thought to be the lowest fordable place on the upper or swamp-land portion of the river. There is one more crossing-place below us, between this point and Windsor Shade, at the head of tidewater navigation on this river. It is known as the Long Bridge, only no bridge is there now.
There is a Federal picket on the other side, in front of us here, but they keep very quiet. It is said that Sheridan's cavalry is over there, too. Wade Hampton's cavalry is just, above us at the railroad crossing and above that. But all the troops are constantly changing positions. A report has just come up that Grant is crossing the Chickahominy at the Long Bridge. If so, it is strange no fighting has been going on down that way.
This point is fifteen or eighteen miles from the city, the battlefield of Seven Pines lying between us and town. While all the cannoneers are required to stay near by the guns, the drivers are employed most of the time each day in hunting around to find grazing for the horses. General Lee has just passed us here.
May heaven defend you and us.
Your friend, B.
-Under the Stars and Bars: A History of the Surry Light Artillery-Recollections of a Private Soldier in the War Between the States
By Benjamin Washington Jones