The time finally comes! Abiel gets his commission and is returned to active service, with a rather sentimental send-off by his comrades at Camp Distribution. No more trips into Washington for plays and fine dining. The military run-around should be familiar to anyone who has dealt with that bureaucracy. Abiel can't be officially be discharged from his old regiment and get his back pay and whatnot settled because that regiment isn't available to deal with the paperwork, being in Andersonville Prison. So he has a conditional discharge that says if he isn't mustered in to the new regiment with his new rank, then he returns to his former regiment...the one in prison.
It's fascinating to read Abiel's thoughts on how to integrate into his new unit, particularly as a newly commissioned officer. (They assign him to the "worst company in the regiment".) There's also a very stark contrast between the conditions he's left, well away from the fighting, and the new normal of constant sniper fire and constant mobility. Not that Abiel didn't see the same conditions back in the first half of 1862 when he first enlisted (before dysentery took him out of commission). But from that period we only have his letters home, not a day-to-day diary, and he's clearly making light of the hardships when relating them to the family. One interesting addition to Abiel's life is that, as an officer, he now has a "servant" who is mentioned casually on regular occasions. So far, no personal name has been mentioned for this persion, and one gets the impression that this isn't a private assigned to the duty. Given the evidence and circumstances it seems likely that Abiel's servant is black.
It's been so long since I read this material previously that it's as if I'm reading the details for the first time. And the close reading necessary for the editing that I'm doing adds to that sense. As a reminder, the original transcription done by my mother (which has much less editing, although I notice that the datelines are standardized in this section) is available on my other website (the heatherrosejones.com one). At some point I'll be adding these edited versions to that location, and if anyone is saving off permanent links, please include that site. The existing web page I had for this month includes a brief summary of events for each entry, which was part of my original plans for presenting the material. I don't know that I'll continue this, but I've left it for now.
Content warning: In the entry for June 20 there is reference to a rape, which involves racially-charged language.
(Some of the following sections are copied from a transcription made by Phyllis G. Jones in 1956/57 in which spelling may have been modernized.)
HRJ Note: In putting together this online version of Abiel's writings, I am working from two sources: a computer file obtained from my mother in 2007, and a paper copy of the edition that she published privately in 1993. It has become apparent that the two don't entirely match for various reasons. Some explanation is needed for the first four days of June. The published text has a note after the entry for June 4th as follows:
"The leather-covered diary ends with a record of letters LaForge had received and the dates when he answered them. For the rest of the war he kept his "men's" on papers that were then sent to his sister from time to time with letters to her. The first four days of June 1864 were duplicated on the new sheets."
So there will be duplicate entries for these four days. The texts I'll identifiy as "A" are indicated as coming from the "leather-covered diary" and that those identified as "B" are from the papers kept after that time.
At some point, I'll need to do a more thorough cross-check between the computer file version and the published version. I only realized that the mis-match existed because I was looking up a question of hyphenation** in one of the computer file entries and spotted the missing material in the printed text. (** My mother's computer editing involved a lot of manual formatting, including the addition of hyphens to format the text pleasantly on the page. Abiel used hyphens in some unexpected ways, such as "to-day", but in general if a hyphen appears at the end of a line in the printed version, I've assumed it was an editorial addition.) End of HRJ comments.
Wednesday June 1st 1864 [A]
Clear and warm. Sent a squad of over 600 men to the Army of the Potomac this P.M. A letter came from Colonel North today saying that, after waiting so long, he had received a commission for me as 1st Lieutenant in the 106th New York. This regiment is now in the 6th Army Corps under Major General H.G. Wright. The 6th is a fighting Corps. Captain Crawford kindly offered to go to the city with me tomorrow to get it and also get my accounts settled. I have had a very busy day preparing for the change. I expect I shall be looked upon with anything but favor when I get to my new regiment, for no doubt some fellow who has bravely fought in the company thinks, and truly, that he deserves it more than me. I have no fear but that I shall soon be all right with them, if they will only be half decent. The Colonel gave me some good advice tonight. Says he, "You have a good start now. If you ever get any higher, it must be by your own exertions." Of course I told him I should do my best. What pleases me most is that my sister will feel so glad of my promotion. She will be so proud of me that she will almost dance a jig.
DIARY -Wednesday June 1st, 1864 [B]
............life opened before me today ..............distinguish myself if I am only true to my good tea.........
I received [a] letter from Colonel North who is the New York State agent, saying that after waiting so long he at length had received a commission for me as 1st Lieutenant in the 106th New York Volunteers. The regiment is now in the 6th Army Corps which is commanded by Major General J.G. Wright. General Sedgwick, or Uncle Johnny as his men familiarly called him, who commanded the corps when it started on this spring's campaign, was killed at Spottsylvania C.J. The 6th is a fighting corps.
Captain Crawford kindly offered to go to the city with me tomorrow to get my commission and also to see if I could get my accounts as private of the 85th New York Volunteers. I have had a very busy day preparing for the change in my condition. I expect that I shall have a very busy day tomorrow also.
Doubtless I shall be looked upon with anything but favor by my new associates when I get to the regiment, for doubless some young man who has fought bravely with the company thinks and truly that he should have the promotion and not I. I have no fear but that I shall get along all right with them in a short time if they will give me half a chance. Colonel McKelvy gave me some good advice today when we were alone, after which he informed me that if I ever got any higher it must be by my own exertions. Of course I told him I should do my best. What pleases me most is that my sister will feel so pleased and proud of her brother officer.
I sent off a squad of over six hundred men for the Army of the Potomac. They go to White House Landing. Weather clear and cold
June 2nd 1864 [A]
Clear and warm. I went to town with Colonel McKelvy and got my commish. I find that I cannot get discharged from the service on account of not having a final statement from the 85th. I went to the War Department. They said no order for my discharge had come from the governer yet and that I could not get mustered out until it was received. Received a letter from Miss P-. She says that she is so very plain looking that she does not like to send her photograph to me.
DIARY Thursday 2nd [B}
Clear & warm. I rode to town with Colonel McKelvy and got my commission. I find that I cannot get discharged from the service on account of not having a Final Statement from the 85th New York Volunteers. I went to the War Department. They said that no order for my discharge had come from the Governor of New York yet and that I could not get mustered out until it was received.
Returned to camp not quite well pleased. I shall not write to sister until I am sure of being an officer. Received a letter from Miss Annie Porter. She claims that she is homely and don't like to send her picture. I am pretty sure of the object of that statement, however. Mr. Loy(?) of the same place has given me a description of her.
June 3rd [A]
Clear and warm. I went to town again with a letter on which I got a conditional discharge. That is, I am to proceed to my regiment and, if not mustered in as Lieutenant, am to return to my former regiment. I cannot get a settlement until the 85th is paroled. Colonel North gave me a good letter to the Colonel of the 106th as an introduction.
DIARY Friday 3rd [B]
Cool. I went to town with a letter from Captain Crawford on which I got a "conditional discharge." That is, I am allowed to proceed to my regament and if not mustered in as an officer, I am to return to the regiment...which I formerly belonged. I cannot get a settlement until the 85th is exchanged ...... .re now in the rebel Prison of Andersonville. Colonel North gave me a letter of introduction to the Colonel of the 106 New York, in which he refers in very flattering terms of myself.
June 4th 1864 [A]
Cool. I got $70 of Sergt Beaugureau for which I gave him an order on Joseph Potter for $75 and went over to town and got a sword and belt, a uniform coat, shoulder straps &c. Went up and played two games of billiards with Edmonds--beat him both times. While I was there, an order came for us to get ready to start by 9 O.C. A.M. tomorrow. A large portion of the men had to be armed before starting, so we are having a prety busy time of it.
The boys are all very sorry I am going, if one may judge by their actions. They are all fine fellows and I almost feel sad at parting with them. I think I will send this book with other things home in a box and get a new one not so large.
I wish the mail would come in tomorrow before we leave, for I expect a letter from my sister by it. She was in delicate health when I last heard from her, consequent on becoming the mother of a fine blue-eyed boy. I shall leave word with Beaugureau to keep my letters until he hears from me and then send them on. I expect we are to be sent to the White House Landing.
DIARY Saturday 4th [B]
Still cool. I borrowed $70 of Sergeant Beaugureau, for which I gave him an order on Joseph Potter for $75. With this money I went to town and got a sword & belt, a uniform coat, shoulder straps, &c. I am to go to the front with a squad of about 1000 men whom we are organizing into a provisional brigade and officering it with the officers here who are to go to the front.
I went up to the Billiard room with Edmonds and beat him a couple of games. While I was there, an order came for the Brigade to be ready to start at 9 A.M. to morrow. Most of the men had to be around [armed? see other version] before starting, so we have a rather busy time. I was airing [arming?] my company tonight.
About midnight the Colonel and Quarter Master came around where I was issuing the arms. Ellison the Quarter Master was a little tight. He took me by the hand and congratulated me on my promotion, saying that it was the best thing Govener Seymour ever did. He wanted to know if I wanted shelter tents for my men. I told him that I had not been mustered as an officer and therefore could not draw them. Colonel McKelvy said the same. "I dont care a damn," said he. "If he will only sign the papers he shall have whatever he wants for them, even if I have to pay for them myself."
I hate to leave my dear old friends at the Head quarters. I have spent many happy hours with them. They all contratulate me, but dislike to have me leave. I wish the mail would come tomorrow before I go. I am anxious to hear from my sister. She was in delicate health when I last heard from her. She had then just became the mother of a fine blue eyed boy. I shall leave word with Beaugereau to keep any letters that may arrive for me until I write to him.
[Note: From here on, we're back to single entries.]
DIARY Sunday 5th
Fine day. The Provisional Brigade started at 9 as before ordered. I was bade adieu by the Colonel and other officers and detained in a manner most flattering to my feelings. I had more friends than I was aware of. The officers & men of the marching brigade stared at me, thinking that I must be somebody.
Our brigade at Alexandria was placed on board three government transports which were lying at the coal wharf. Did not start until about 4 P.M. Ran down the river until dark. Are now anchored until morning, as the Pilot does not know the river well enough to venture to run during the darkness. The officers, of course, occupy the cabins. I look now upon them. There are twelve, myself included, and we represent six nations. All are in the liveliest possible moods and each one is making as much fun and good humor as possible. The Irishman is relating the incidents of a Barnegate Fair to a few Jolly fellows, while an Italian is exhibiting a dancing Jack which he has brought for our amusement. The German, with an immense meerchaum in his mouth, is illustrating in the broadest dialect how he parted with his Frau when He came to war. Loud roars of laughter testify to his sucess. The Frenchman, with many gesticulations, is trying to convince an Englishman that Waterloo would have been a defeat for English arms had it not been for certain reasons which John Bull of course "cant see." A Scotchman sitting by is appealed to by the excited Johnny Crekean. instead of answering, he gravely draws a pocket flask and offers it for "inspection" to both parties. The contents seems to restore good feeling between the contestants for the matter is dropped. I am requested to join them at a game of Muggins to spend the evening I of course accepted ......... the rest of the evening in fun & jolity.
[Note: This description of the "six nations" is fascinating, and a testament to how solidly people were framed in terms of immigrant origins even within the "united" states. Abiel doesn't indicate to which "nation" he considers himself to belong. I haven't been able to track down "Johnny Crekean" which appears to be possibly a French counterpart to "John Bull".]
DIARY (Monday 6th)
........... the upper cabin more comfortable than the deck outside. Our distination is White House Landing. I am officer of the deck & day, so have the entire charge of boat and men for a while. It seems rather strange to have the men salute me as I pass. I try to look dignified enough to make them think that I am only one removed from Major General, of course. We are anchored in the mouth of the York River for the night. A threatening black cloud is coming up. It looks like the bearer of rain, as it comes sweeping across the Chesapeake. Our other two Transports are in sight.
DIARY Tuesday 7th
Rained hard last night. Started up the river at daylight. Had a good view of famous Yorktown. I remember well how glad I was to see her frowning fortifications sink far behind us as the boat which conveyed me--a fever patient--from her walls, receded from this shore two years ago. We entered the Pamunkey river about 9 A.M. Steamed up its tortuous course, which lagoon like seemed to forbid navigation to White House Landing, where we disembarked at 3[?] P.M. Marched [?] a mile from the Landing and camped. We were not long in getting our shelters into the shape of dog kennels. I happen to have no tent, so shall sleep with some of my men to night. Captain Parker--the only officer of my regiment along--and I took ..... together. The rest of the officers have made a house of hard tack boxes and are now playing their usual game of muggins
DIARY Wednesday 8th
Very warm. I turned over some men in my camp belonging to the 132 Ohio over to that Regiment, which is camped near here. About 4 P.M. received orders to escort Wagon Train to the front. 400 were detailed for this purpose. Started at 5 P.M. with 200 wagons. I put my knapsack in one of the wagons and took command of the company, as the captain got in an ambulance ahead and I did not see him until night. We guarded the train 10 miles, then it parked and we left it. We only marched a little farther however before we camped also. It being 9 P.M. I got the company into a good place then went to a Wagon park near, got a drink, after a while I cooked a piece of meat holding it over the fire on a stick, like I have in the sugar bush up in old Allegany County New York.
DIARY Thursday 9th
Slept comfortably last night, rolled up in a blanket on the ground. Left camp shortly after sunrise. Marched to Army Head Quarters.
General Grant, he was sitting under his tent-fly and for wonder is not smoking. The captain of my Provisional Compay was here--he left us last night--and some other officers of our command also. Made coffee, then the men belonging to my corps (6 & 7) started for its Head Quarters from there. I, with the others who belonged to the 3rd Division, went to those Head Quarters, found the Div[ision?] General & Staff lying upon the ground under tent fly.
Captain Parker & I with two men of the 106 went to our Brigade Head Quarters & from there to Reg. Col. Head Quarters. This last we found to be simply a hole in the ground covered with pieces of shelter tents. Captain Parker introduced me very coolly, but I knew that I had no easy task to accomplish to put myself on a footing in the Regiment so I did not pretend to notice it, but acted & spoke in the most gentleman-like manner I could command.
Captain Paine is command of the regiment. He assigns me to the command of Company I, which he privately informed me was the worst company in the regiment. They are mostly French in from Canada. I went back to Division Head Quarters and was mustered as a 1st Lieutenant in this Regiment.
When I came back to the regiment, everybody was cautioning me to be careful, keep my head down &c. The bullets however would be sufficient warning, for the sharpshooters in the rebel lines were sending their compliments into our lines every time any portion of the body was exposed. Scarcely a moment passed but that some of the Brigade are hit. My company is lying in a ditch behind a breastwork which they have built up for their protection. The upper end of the ditch is my quarters, but on all sides dirt is our friend. A tree under which I am writing has been hit twice since I have set here & shells have knocked the dirt from the breastwork over this paper--to save sanding I suppose. [See note below.] The men, if they move about at all, keep their heads below the breastworks. It is a satisfaction to know that the rebs who are only 200 yards from us are experiencing the same discomfort, for our men keep their heads down too.
Wrote to sister. There is a detail from the Regiment to go out and strengthen our picket line entrenchments tonight.
[Note: Abiel is being funny. "Sanding" was a part of writing with liquid ink, where a very find powder would be dusted over the wet ink. The capilary action would help with evaporation, then the sand would be dusted off when the ink was dry.]
I thought likely you may want to hear from me by this time, so you have probaby answered my other letter, and as I was not where you sent it. Of course I wanted to get here as soon as possible to assume my command. I was placed as second in command of a company of men belonging to this corps which was to be sent from our old place here.
I had a good time with the rest of the officers coming down. The boys disliked to have me come very much for in camp. When I get up home I will tell you what a parting I had with the Colonel and Quartermaster. We got to White house Landing day before yesterday. No, the day before that. Yesterday we guarded a train up about a mile of Army Headquarters camped and this morning came on. We stopped near General Grant's tent an hour or so. He was sitting in front of it and for a wonder not smoking. Our squad was divided then and I came with all that came to this corps in charge of a captain of this regiment. I took command of the company as soon as I arrived. We are in a very hot place here. My regiment charged down and took this ground last Sunday with a loss of the Colonel Major, and five other officers killed and about two hundred others killed and wounded. My company lost its commander and six men. We are in a very hot place, the rebs are sending their compliments into camp all the time.
Give my love to all our folks.
Lots of love to you
I am very tired and should much rather come up and take supper with you than to go on the duty I have to tonight. Give my kind regards to all our neighbors and direct your letters to:
Your loving brother,
A.T. LaForge Lieut, Com, d.g.
"I" Co. 106 Regt. N.Y. Vols.
1st Brigade 3rd Div. 6th A.C.
Preserve the other sheet of this letter as I want it as a memorandum when I get home. Lots of firing.
DIARY Saturday 11th
Clear & warm. At dark yesterday, an order came around for us to pack up quietly and be ready to move by time the moon set. It appears that our line is to be extended farther to the left, so our division is moved in that direction. Our regiment got everything ready and the men laid down with knapsacks on their backs and guns by their sides to catch what little sleep they could, while waiting the time that we were waiting for further orders. I was called to attend a meeting of the officers convened for the purpose of electing by vote some of their number to fill the vacant position of Lieutenant Colonel & Major, both of which were made vacant by the last charge on the eve of the first of June. I told the officers that I, being a newcomer and unacquainted with the relative merits of the candidates, would take no part in the proceedings. They elected Major MacDonald who is wounded and Private for Lieutenant Colonel vice Charles Townsend, killed in action. Their votes tied for Major between Captain Robertson & Paine. The latter is now in command of the Regiment.
About 12 midnight we fell into line without noise and moved through the darkness up to Division Head Quarters, which was about a mile. Then we halted, laid down, and slept until about an hour before day, then moved a mile & half farther to the left. There appeared to be some misunderstanding as to what part of the line we were to relieve. Our Brigade marched back a piece, closed in mass, stacked arms, got breakfast, and remained until 10 A.M. when definate orders were received and the Brigade went on to the fron line, 2[?] miles to the left of the position recently occupied. Here we are subject to just as constant and heavy a fire as before, but as our position is behind the brow of a hill, we are better protected and the fire is not so fatal. Two slightly wounded are all the casualities in the Regiment today.
My quarters are slightly improved on the former ones, one being now above ground. The house is in the shape of a V, the open toward the enemy. The two sides were formed of logs. The other two are open to the weather. It is covered with bark and brush. I have had to make the first exhibition of authority today. Two of my men got to quarreling and I had to reprove them sternly.
DIARY Sunday June 12th
Pretty warm. My boys and I covered my chebang [see note] with bark entirely and made some other improvements which were much needed. It is rumored today that our "base" is being changed to the James river. The Division orders to be ready to march at a moments notice. We are always ready, however, for it does not take long to pack up the small amount of luggage we carry. I was out four or five rods from the breast work (rear of them) when four of the rebel sharpshooters made a mark of me. several of their bullets came so close to my head that I concluded the most prudent course for me to take was the course to the breastworks.
DIARY Tuesday June 14th
The grand movement of the army has been successfully accomplished. Grant has changed his base from White house Landing on the Pamunkey to the banks of the James. Just after dark the 12th orders were received directing us to fall in, abandon our works, and march back to a line of works a mile in our rear, which had been constructed so that in case we were suddenly followed by the enemy we could defend ourselves from this point.
So as to cover the noise which we necessarily made, the bands were directed to strike up a lively air. This did not excite the suspicion of the enemy as the bands always perform at dark. We double quicked back to the rear line here, finding the troops in sufficient numbers to defend the works without us. After lying about for a couple of hours, our corps was directed to take up its line of march to the Chickahoming. The movement was by the left Flank. When we started off, the rebs were shelling our abandoned front line, how pretty the morter shells looked. They formed the arc of a fiery circle in the air, bursting among the trees and lighting up their verdure so beautifully. However those shells broke no heads.
Marches all night with regiment parts and at sunrise filed off into a field and halted to get breakfast. We had not advanced more than six miles in all night, although our road was very fatiguing. After taking coffee we again resumed the march making for our old crossing of the Chickahoming by the way of Cedar Grove Church. Crossed the river at 10 P.M. and encamped on the Richmond side and received orders to make ourselves comfortable for the night. Such an order was needed, for the men had been without sleep for forty hours, and twenty seven hours had been on the march.
The 2nd, 5th & 6th corps bivouacked close to each other on an undulating plain. Their fires were burning brightly all over the plain, through the woods and fields the same. Those fires marked the spots where our tired veterans were stooping over the supper there, in course of preparation. All this presented a scene that one cannot expect to behold but once in a lifetime. I went out to a hill a little distance from our bivoucac, and tired and sleepy as I was, the view presented was so fascinating that I quite forgot the lapse of time and stood gazing on those gathered multitudes wondering what fate mnight be in store for us in the future. We were bound on an uncertain and difficult move in which the lives of many must certainly be sacrificed, but how little those busy light-hearted fellows down there thought of that.
When I returned to my company, I found that my servant had prepared my coffee, hard-tack and port. After partaking of this frugal meal, I rolled up in my overcoat and went to sleep. This morning was awakened to get breakfast and continue our march at 2:10 o'clock. Yesterday was very hot and dusty. Last night we were unable to get enough water to wash with, so slept without washing this morning. I hardly think that anybody would have pointed us out as examples of cleanliness. After breakfast, we started on and reached this place near Wilsons Landing about 11 A.M. Charles City is a ruined school house, Blacksmith shop and four houses is about a mile south of us. We are a mile from the farms [?] I can hear besides steamers going up & down. The corps is in Line of Battle and expect to remain as they are for the night.
The boys are shooting sheep, hogs, hens, geese and everything they can get. No Rebs can be seen or heard, it seems strange. I have been detailed as officer of the picket. Am on duty in a pleasant woods a mile from camp very pleasantly situated. Captain Chanberlin is also on duty here.
DIARY Friday 17th
Camp two miles from Point of Rocks. Weather still pleasant.
I was relieved from duty about sundown, the 15th (Wednesday) then took my picket to the Regiment, which had changed positions during the time I was on duty. I was not relieved then but directed to bivouac my men a piece in front of the Regiment for its protection from surprise. My feet, from this rest, began to feel better. They have both been dreadfully sore. They hurt me so on the 14th that I should certainly [have] applied for a pass to the ambulance if I had not been a new officer and too proud to complain to any man on endurance. Where my feet were galled, they have festered and broken, and are now easy. Relieved from duty and rejoined the company.
About 10 on the 16th Thursday. Resumed the Route again at that hour, but it was only [to] change the division so that our line was in the form of a semicircle, with both flanks resting on the James [river?]. This line we entrenched in two hours with a Breastwork 7 feet thick. The object of the work was to protect the crossing of our troops from Williams Landing to Bermuda Hundred. Just as we got our work completed, a Negro Division, marched in and relieved us and our Division marched down to the landing to embark.
3000 of us were put on one steamer and brought up to Bermuda, badly crowded. We were too tired and the weather hot. It was awful. The steamer rocked from side to side like a cradle. We reached the place of debarkation about midnight and were marched until daylight this morning, in order to reach Butlers Fortifications across the Peninsula formed by the James and Appomattox rivers. This line is just above Point of Rocks.
We heard the gun boats on the James slowly shelling the enemy below Fort Darling. Butler's pickets were firing also, which makes things seem as familiar as possible. Stacked arms and made coffee and were just about to lie down to catch a little sleep when the Rebs made a charge on the 18th corps pickets line. Tremendous volleys of musketry followed each other in rapid succession and our Brigade fell in and hastened to the scene of action with a strong desire to punish Johnny. But before we got there, the enemy retreated before the determined valor of our pickets. Again we Bivouacked and slept through the heat of the day. It was very hot. At 1 P.M., changed to a position half a mile in rear of the line. The rebs saw us come here and sent a few compliments after us in the shape of six inch shell. I must mention the kindness of the officers in boarding as I did not quite understand how officers subsisted and have been learning the rules.
DIARY Saturday 18th
Last night the Division was ordered out to the Picket Line when it was being released as a support in case of attacks. Laid down 200 yards in rear of said lines and most of our men were soon asleep. I had just begun to doze when a heavy volley of musketry put me on my feet in an instant. Our impression was that an advance was being attempted by the enemy, and we laid just behind a narrow road in line of battle so as to check any such move if made. The balls flew around our heads making their peculiar music too close to our ears to be agreeable. The rebels' batteries now opened and the shells bursting among the trees and men.
Some few were carried by on stretchers either killed or wounded; we were too sleepy to mind this, if the Rebs didnt come themselves. So were composing ourselves to sleep again when the order came to move back to the entrenchments. We thought our duty over for the night, but were mistaken for we only went behind the works to emerge in another place, and formed by the moonlight behind our Picket line in another place (our Brigade 1st in the front line) to make a charge on the enemy works. Charge ordered to take place when the moon went down which would be at 5 A.M. (19th). This left some hours for sleep and nearly all the men soon availed themselves of it, although we had orders to the contrary.
Some of the men who had cowardly legs made excuses to go to the rear but most of them were brave enough. It is a matter of surprise how men can get so accustomed to facing death that they can quickly sleep when he is hovering so close above them. I walked up & down in front of our sleeping braves for a short time, then went to our Picket Line about 200 yards in front of them. I saw the rebs working like ants strengthening their lines. I could get a faint view of the works we must storm and I must confess was not very sanguine of success against their strong lines. Just then, the two lines that were behind our Brigade began to move off and I thought that we must make the charge alone. The rebs heard them and opened with cannon & small arms. After they were clear of the field, we also were taken in moving by the right flank. A few of our men were killed and wounded. I have not learned why the charge was not made.
Moved inside the works and camped for the day as day began to break when we got in. A heavy fire has been kept up toward Petersburg all night. Expect to move again to night somewhere probably across the Appomattox.
My dear sister & friends,
I have not heard from you since I came here but that does not surprise me as we have not had a mail in over a week. I will write you a letter every Saturday when I can, as you will want to hear from me at least once a week and I certainly want to hear from you that often, so you must write to me that often too.
You must not be surprised if my letters are not regular, as we may have to move on that day. We have moved every day excepting two since I came here. Have marched four nights all night in that time. This you must know is very tiresome to us. Alive well enough, carry very little with me so as to march easy.
I often think of you and the little one and all our friends up there and wonder what you would think if you could see the dirty, jolly way in which we live. You would scarcely know me. I look so black and soiled. I sleep on the ground with nothing between me and the sky but a rubber blanket. This is well enough in clear weather, such as we have here ever since I have been at the front. If it rained, matters would not be so pleasant.
We officers have to buy our grub of the commissary when he comes up to issue rations to the men. We get hardtack, beans, sugar, ham, dried apples, coffee, beef, pepper, and pickles when he has them, which he seldom has all at a time, and if he had, we could not carry all, but must pick what we like best of his assortment. He also has whisky calley commissary but of that I have not bought. [Note: I'm unsure how to interpret "calley commissary", possibly "called commissary" referring to a nickname? This is one more of the passing references to alcohol that suggest a shift in attitude toward drinking on his part.]
I was out of money when I got my commission and had to borrow $75 of a friend up at camp to get an outfit with. I gave him a note on Joseph for that amount which I should be obliged to him on Perry's if they will pay when it is sent to them. If I do not get paid so that I can sent it to him by July 15th at which time the note is due. If I pay it I will let them know. I shall have $300 coming to me by the first of July. $200 I cannot get until my former Regiment (85th) is exchanged, and perhaps not the other $100 until our fighting is over. I thought I would send you word so that you could be ready if I was not. The weather is very hot, but the nights are cool enough to sleep in the open air comfortably.
Give my best love to mother and Joseph and don't forget me in your prayers. We are to move tonight so I must close by sending lots of love to the boy & all the rest. Please say to Sherman (Crandall) if you speak to him - that I am very busy marching and fighting day and night, and that he must send me a common towel by mail, do it up and put a common wrapper around it.
Your loving brother,
A.T. LaForge 1st Lt. "I" Co. 106" N.Y.
DIARY June 20th, 1864
In camp two miles south of Petersburg, Virginia. I had only just closed my letter of the 18th when a roar of artillery in the enemies breastworks [?] mile distant quickly followed by a storm of spherical case, canister, and shells warned us that our dog tents (which our men had put up inside our breastworks as a shelter against the burning sun, and which the enemy had not seen until the sun got in the west so that it shone on the side next to them) had finally been caught sight of by our neighbors.
Our men were quietly snoozing away comfortably to make up for the weary marching and watching of the past few nights, but this ungracious salute sent them to scambling for shelter, which was fortunately near at hand in the shape of bomb proofs & breast works. Most of the boys grabbed their tents & dragged them with them, I was assisting my servant to take mine off the guns on which it was spread, when one of those little irregular iron bullets with which those confounded Spherical case are stuffed struck me in the left side. It was so nearly spent that it did not go through my shirt, but hung in it until I picked it off. It left an uncomfortable dent on my fifth rib. However strange as it may seem, but few of the men were hit, none of them seriously. Our cannon soon began to reply and the Rebs were speedily dried up.
Just at sundown the Division was moved into a line of empty bomb proofs and--for a wonder--allowed to rest undisturbed all night, the first entire night's rest we have enjoyed for a long time. We luxuriated in quiet until 3 P.M. yesterday (Sunday 9) [note: trascription error? must mean 19] when our Division was moved to this place crossing the Appomattox on a pontoon bridge at Point of Rocks.
Arrived at our present camp at 10 P.M. after a very hot & dusty march, made coffee, which, disposed of, we laid ourselves to rest in the sand, with the order ringing in our ears to be up and in line of battle by 7 A.M. this morning in order to repel an expected attack. The sleepy god was gracious and so were the Rebs, for no attack was made. In lieu of that however, we had a bombardment at daylight.
Our forces are just in the edge of Petersburg and could take possession of it at any time. To do so would be poor strategy, for the city is completely commanded by the rebel batteries on the right of Pocahontas on the opposite side of the river. Until we can take those also, we do not want the city. Our camp is just in the edge of a wood, which crowns a hill overlooking the Appomattox valley. The situation is pleasant. One little draw back exists, however, in the shape of certain substances which at home would have been left in places designated as privies. This is accounted for by the fact that last week this ground was occupied as a Confederate camp. About noon I walked out to the works captured by the colored troops under General ........ evidences of hard fighting were numerous. In one of the forts was a gallows, on which was hanging a negro teamster. The fiend had raped a white woman at or near Coal Harbor. From the ramports of this fort the view was splendid. It embraced Petersburg and miles of rebel work. The first appears to good advantage from here, but the rest look far better when in our possession.
DIARY Thursday 23rd
Camp on the extreme left of the Army. Test came in front of Petersburg on the P.M. of the 21st and moving through the outer line of the defences of the city. Moved to the left flank of the army. An engagement had taken place there in which our troops--Birney's old Division--had been driven back. We arrived on the field just at dark, formed line of battle, and charged for half a mile without meeting resistence. Halted then and with our bayonets for picks and our cups, plates, and hands for shovels we soon threw up a very good breastworks for defense purposes. My boys were tired, so to encourage them I jumped over our works and went toward [a] house 30 rods [away] to get rails against which to pile the dirt.
While I and Corporal White were loading up, a fellow with five canteens over his shoulder came out from the swamp in front of us and asked how our lines run. The Corporal told him, and then Yankee-like asked him what regiment he belonged to. He said the 54th Georgia Hills Division. "Your regiment is just up here on our left," said the Corporal, "Come with us." The fellow readily obeyed and was very much astonished to find that he was a prisoner in the Union lines. I took his canteens, which we needed very much, as some of my men had none. I took him to Head Quarters & turned him over. In reply to our questions, he said that he had been detailed to bring water for his company. In looking for it in the swamp, he had got turned arround and and came out on the wrong side. He thought we were Rebs. Being dark, he could not see our uniforms. His Lieutenant, he said, had taken his gun "saying that he would carry it until my return." I am sure that Lieutenant will be sick of his bargain before Mr. Prisoner gets back.
Yesterday morning the order to "Form line and charge" was given. Over our temporary breastwork & through swamp and woods we went for half a mile. Then we struck the Rebel line & halted. Our men at once commenced entrenching themselves. No order was given for us to do so, however the enemy were just in our front with nothing but a skirmish line between us and them. Men saw the need of works without orders.
The skirmish line was finally attacked with such vigor that they had to fall back to the line of Battle. One of my men, Corporal S. Carton was badly wounded in the thigh and died in a short time. The bullets flew thick & fast. Still the men continued to work on our defence. They would lie flat on the ground and throw the soft soil up in front of them with their hands at the same time replying to the fire of their foes. The Rebs, by a flank move on our left, succeded in capturing part of the 57th Pennsylvania. Their further success was checked by the resistence of the rest of the line and they were driven back. Our skirmish line following & taking their former position in our front. We had succeeded in making a very good Breastworks when, an hour before sundown, orders came to abandon this and fall back to our line of the night before. We did in pretty good order but with a great deal of grumbling, for we thought the Rebs would take possession of our works and we should have to fight for them in the morning.
We had scarcely reached the line built last night when the order was given for another advance, the whole corps charging in two lines. (Our reason for falling back & advancing again was this: the Rebs this morning made a sudden advance and captured two lines of works from the corps on our right. This, just then partly in our rear, as we were advanced beyond the corps with which our right should connect. Hence the order to fall back, which had scarcely been executed when the lost ground on the right was recaptured & left us free for another advance, of which General Wright at once advanced himself.)
In our forward movement this time, no stop was made at the works which we had thrown up in the forenoon, but on over them we went, then directly at the enemy with a yell that would have astonished a troop of Indians. Drove them out of their works and through the most impenetrable jungle of brambles, through which our progress was necessarily very slow. Our left made a big swing upon the right as a pivot. This charge was made with the guns uncapped. We depended on our bayonets entirely. It soon became so thick that progress was next to impossible & a halt was called. Ordered pickets thrown out & we laid down for the night without our coffee, for building fires was prohibited as it would inform the enemy of our position.
We slept under arms this morning at 1:32 O.C. and were in line expecting advance again but are not to do so. The men are now (3 P.M.) slowly building a small work--the third in two days. The enemy are attempting a drive on left flank from the Petersburg & Weldon Railroad which that flank is destroying. I hope that no advance in force will be made in that direction for it would imperil our whole line.
DIARY Friday 27th
Again back occupying the line of works thrown up on the evening of the 21st. The enemy which were in so strong force on our left flank yester day finally attacked us. Our line until yesterday noon was in this shape __/ the left going nearly to the Weldon R.R. The Rebs charged with their line running at right angles with our left which caused our line to be double back in this wise:[I have a graphic to insert here but it's in an obsolete format and I'll need to reconstruct it.]
in such an uncomfortable shape as tha,t we had to fight until long after dark. The 106th was in the part of the line marked * which made our breastworks of no use to us unless we got over them, for the Rebs' shells came from almost directly behind us. It was an anxious moment. Nothing could save our brigade from being cut to pieces or captured, if the line behind us gave way. The men kept on strengthening their works but our anxiety was not for our front. We considered ourselves able to defend ourselves from any Rebs that might come in that direction. Behind us lay our uncertainty.
Just after dark, the order came for a charge. We were to advance our right, strengthen our out line so as to front the enemy, and then charge and try to capture them. I tried to feel very confident that this would be a successful move, but somehow I could not see its feasibility, as the force of the enemy was evidently much stronger than ours. Our pickets were driven in pell mell to the main line. Several of the officers, including myself, jumped over the breastworks and rallied them, then formed them in a line advanced in front of us, perhaps an hundred yards.
About 9 P.M. we noislessly withdrew from the works we had thrown up and retired to the line. The movement was a dangerous one to be executed in the presence of a superior foe. Our pickets remain out in our yesterday's line. Today we have orders to strengthen the defences here, as it is to be occupied at all hazards. This we have done by thickening the breastworks and making an abattis in front of it. Some of my men are putting me up comparatively comfortable quarters.
Some of the Rebs we captured yesterday say that, when we made the charge the day before, they thought the whole Army of the Potomac was coming. Such tremendous yelling was kept up. The losses of the corps by these charges has been about 400. The heaviest cannonading I ever heard took place this morning. I thought a general engagement very probable. It must have been at Petersburg and Bermuda Hundred. The roar was continous and awful. I received a letter from Sergeant Beaugureau enclosing one from my sister.
DIARY Saturday 28th
We have enjoyed a quiet day but not one of rest, for it has been too hot, almost suffocating. I placed my hand on the ground and found the sand so hot that to touch it was painful. My servant has cut small pine saplings and stuck them in the ground around my tent, so as to shade me somewhat. Still the perspiration pours in streams from our bodies and "all the cry is water, water." I do not suffer as much from this as might be expected. I wonder if sister has received my letter notifying her of my promotion yet. I have received no answer to any letter written since my joining the regiment.
Dearly loved sister,
I expect if you should go to the extensive city of Andover expecting a letter and should not find one when it was due, you would feel rather badly. Well that is just the way with me here when I expect a letter from you and do not get one. This is the third weekly letter which I have written to you, none of which have yet been answered. But I will not scold, for you may have written and I not received it, or you may not have received my communications. For fear this is as may be the case, I will write two things that I did before. One is that I will write once a week regularly (Sabbath day), and desire that you will do the same that we may be in communications with each other. The other is this: I borrowed $75 of a friend at Camp Distribution and gave him an order on Joseph for the same [and] will be obliged if he will meet it when it becomes due July 15th 1864. I have but poor prospect of getting my pay before that time or I could pay it and not half try.
If you can't read my memorandum (which I doubt) you will see that we are having a pretty rough time of it. I am so black and dirty that even with all the love of a sister I doubt if you would know me. It is so very hot and dusty that whenever we march we are covered with mud--yes mud--for we, of course, are wet with perspiration and the dust--which the movements of a regiment causes to fly in clouds so thick that you can not see the length of a company, until it collects on our face & hands and clothing [?] of an inch thick.
It is now the 18th day since we have had a drop of rain and you can hardly imagine the condition of the soil. When I was on the Peninsula with Little Mac, the difficulty was too much rain, now it is the opposite. We sometimes have difficulty in procuring enough water for positive necessities. Soldiers will get water, however, where other persons would not think of it.
The last time I wrote you, our Regiment was in the fortifications near Bermuda Hundreds, where we shelled so skillfully ...... the Rebels. We moved from there, however, to Petersburg, where we stoped for a day and then moved to this place 5 miles South of that city on the Weldon R.R., of which we have partly destroyed the track, for which we paid dearly by our heavy loss.
This is the fourth day since the 8th during which I have not been under fire. It seems funny not to have the bullets flying about one's head. I have become so used to it that I miss the music. I am in excellent health and full of jollity in spite of hardships. I have a servant who does my cooking and takes care of my equippage while I am fighting, which of course takes much of the anxiety off my mind, as the extensive character of my household goods causes me many perturbations of the mind. The articles consist of my haversack, canteen, writing materials, and an extra pair of socks &c. The rest of my wealth is in the regimental baggage wagon, which comes to us whenever it has a chance.
I must close by sending lots of love to all. Say to mother that I will be carefull and to little Joe that he must grow to be a soldier.