On June 14th 1864, the Army of the Potomac began crossing the James River.
Grant’s plan was to take Petersburg, the vital railroad terminal. When
Grant’s troops got to Petersburg, only 2,500 men under General Beauregard
were defending the city’s earthworks. The works consisted of ten miles
of twenty foot breastworks and trenches with fifteen foot ditches in front.
The long line was linked together by fifty five artillery redans which is a
small fort or artillery emplacement. The first Union troops to go forward were
the 18th Corps under General “Baldy” Smith. Remembering what had
happened at the Battle of Cold Harbor where thousands of Union troops were
slaughtered while trying to take Confederate earthworks, which took place not
even two weeks before, General Smith, was understandably cautious. Unfortunately
he didn’t know that it was so weakly defended. Close to sundown he decided
to go forward. A member of the 115th New York Infantry passing through three
days later recalls the result. “Our forces have taken several works and
lines of rifle pits, which we passed on the way, all very strongly made, also
captured 14 guns.”  Though initially successful, Smith did not continue
Over the next three days similar assaults took place; though they continued
to push Beauregard’s line back they did not achieve a breakthrough. By
June 18th Lee and most of his army had arrived. The assaults continued, but
nothing and thus the Siege began. Charles Kline of the 115th relates in a letter
home, “Every night by digging we advance our line closer to the Johnnies.
Last night our brigade advanced so far that we were able to bury the dead that
were killed when our men were repulsed in a charge the 18th before we came
here. They had lain ever since – the rebs refused to grant a flag of
truce for us to bury them. They had lain nine days. It was awful, all we could
do was throw
dirt over them.”  On June 21st the men of the 77th New York Infantry
were sitting behind their breastworks just passing the time with jokes while
barrage had been going on for several hours. Suddenly a 32 pound shell landed
in the middle of Co. A throwing some of it members threw the air. Three of
the soldiers were taken to the rear with leg injuries. Dr. George T. Stevens
77th recalls their stay in the hospital, “Their cases excited great interest
among the attendants in the hospital and the visitors, for each had lost a
leg just above the knee, the name of each was James, they were all from one
all wounded by a single shell, and all as cheerful as were ever wounded men.”
On June 23rd, the 115th relieved members of the 9th Corps in the Union earth
works. Lieutenant James H. Clark of Co. H describes a Confederate attack that
took place on the 24th. “They first came with their ‘yi, yi, yi,’ in
a single line, and were easily repulsed. They reformed in a moment, and a second
time came charging up in two beautiful lines of battle. Our men took 250 of
them prisoners, killed and wounded, and routed the remainder of them.”
About this time the Union Army made an attempt to cut the city’s three
remaining railroads. The 6th Corps was to meet the cavalry of Kautz and Wilson
at Ream’s Station on the Weldon Railroad. The 77th arrived with the 6th
Corps on June 30th and spent the morning tearing up several miles of track. The
cavalry never arrived and so the Corps turned back later in the day. Kautz and
Wilson had destroyed miles of the Weldon Railroad and then attacked the Southside
Railroad and destroyed miles of that. On their way to Ream’s Station they
ran into some Confederate cavalry and infantry and were driven back. Though the
cavalry had failed to link up with the infantry and the three railroads fell
back into Confederate hands, it took the Confederates sixty-three days to repair
the damage to the railroads.
During these summer months the temperatures ranged over a hundred degrees.
Captain Lennon of the 77th stated on July 8th “The weather is dreadful
hot. Corps officers of the day found us with swords, coats, and belts off,
and myself mixing
a whiskey punch.”  Charles Kline relates the conditions in a letter
are very much in need of rain, haven’t had rain in over a month: the
dust is suffocating. It is almost impossible to march. It is so hot in the
[sic] that at times we can scarcely breathe, yet we have to endure it from
morning till night.”  Heat and dust were not their only discomforts.
James Reid, Co. C of the 115th remembers their problems with lice or gray-backs
them. “The trenches were literally alive with them, therefore it was
impossible to get rid of them and perform all the duties required of us. The
days that we
were at the rear gave us an opportunity to thoroughly rid our clothes of them,
but the banks of the little streams where we did our laundry work rivaled the
trenches as abiding ground of the obnoxious pest.”
Enemy sharpshooters were a constant threat to those in the trenches; James
Reid remembers one particular incident that took place while he and some members
his company were on picket duty in a forward rifle pit. Two passing members
of the 13th Indiana walked into the sight of a sharpshooter, “We cautioned
them on the exposure, but they seemed to take pride in such recklessness, but
which resulted in both being shot through the leg below the knee by one bullet.
One began limping and the other exclaimed, ‘Don’t limp, you d----d
fool, and let that rebel son of a ----- know he winged you.’”
While Reid served his time on picket duty, a series of sad incidents occurred
that were deeply felt by all of Co. C. On July 22nd while Reid was on duty
watching the front through the rifle pit’s loop-hole the others on duty
packed up their knapsacks expecting to be relived that night. Reid wanted to
pack his too
and asked someone to relieve him. Wendell Howe took his place and Reid packed
up and took a seat at the rear of the pit. “A moment later a ball struck
the bank at my side, drawing my attention, but only for a glance. It had struck
Howe, and as he fell we all sprang to his assistance. He was unconscious, and
a hasty search disclosed to us a mortal wound. In ten minutes he was dead.” 
Howe was buried on a hillside that had already been turned into a small cemetery
for the brigade. The entire company turned out for his burial. “He had
become endeared to us in many ways,”  remembered Reid.
A few days later Reid was again on picket duty in the rifle pits. On the
morning of the 26th, the cooks carried coffee to all the rifle pits connected
covered way. Reid’s pit was not connected and the cooks refused to walk
150 feet in the open to bring it to them. Young Albert Dunning decided to run
out to them
and get the coffee. He ran there and back without the Confederates firing a
single shot. According to Reid, the Confederates were probably ether busy eating
or “perhaps they admired his audacity and refrained from taking a life
that was risked for an army ration.”  The Sharpshooter on the other
hand had no intention of entertaining such a notion. Seeing that the light
the loop-hole had been obscured he fired right through it. The bullet hit Dunning
in the forehead tearing away a piece of his skull, five minutes later he was
dead. The company buried him next to Howe on the hillside. “If a volunteer
was ever called for, he was always the first to offer his services. I have
been afraid ever since being here that something would happen to him,” wrote
Captain McKittrick of Co. C in a letter home. “…what will his poor
mother say when she hears the sad news. I will have to write her to-day, and
oh, how I dread it, for what consolation can I offer her? To be sure, I can
say he died for his country, but I know that will be but little to offer, for
whole affections were centered on him, her only boy.”
During this time James Reid’s brother Sergeant Albert J. Reid of the 77th
was able to visit him. The two had not seen each other since Thanksgiving of
1861. The 77th left on July 9th to campaign with General Phillip Sheridan against
the army of Confederate General Jubal A. Early. They would return to Petersburg
on December 12th.
Both armies while sitting in their trenches spent a lot of time pounding
away at each other with their artillery. A. C. Musgrove of Co. H, 115th, relates, “Some
thirty two pounders mounted in one of the captured forts on a hill in our rear,
sends it’s shells into Petersburg at regular intervals, and the boys
call them the ‘Petersburg Express,’ as they go humming over our
heads toward the city.” Musgrove notes this particular day happened to
be the forth of July and some units made good use of it. “A new mortar
battery was planted yesterday to our left, where the 169th Reg’t, from
Troy, is posted. A hundred rounds of ammunition were taken to it yesterday,
the Troy boys said they intended to ‘celebrate the 4th.’” 
Lieutenant Clark recalls how they were also on the receiving end that day. “At
midnight the rebels bombarded us quite furiously, scattering their shells over
extent of territory, but fortunately causing the loss of but three lives.”
The most famous action that took place at Petersburg was the battle of the
Crater. At a place in the line there was an enemy redan that was only 150 yards
the Union line. Troops of the 9th Corps had tunneled underneath the redan and
planted four tons of gunpowder. The plan was to detonate it creating a hole
in the enemy line for attacking Union infantry to exploit. What happened on
30th when the gunpowder was detonated turned out different than was planned.
Lieutenant Clark and the 115th was there, “How well all who were engaged
remember the scenes enacted on that eventful and bloody day; the swaths of
dead; crushed and mangled limbs; the deathly palor on a thousand noble cheeks;
bravery, daring and inspiring devotion of the soldiery, and the awful roar
and tempest of battle on the green hill-sides of Petersburg.”
A black division was supposed to lead the charge and was trained for that
purpose, but at the last minute General Meade with approval from Grant put
a white division
in their place. The black division would have to follow them in. The new leading
troops had no training about what to do when the mine detonated. When the mine
blew, instead of going around the crater the troops went into it and ended
getting stuck. Unable to pull themselves out, artillery opened fire on them.
heated contest Lieutenant Clark looked over to where the crater was and saw
what he thought was a unit lying on the ground in front of it. When his unit
the spot they were horrified to find that all the soldiers were all dead. “There
they lay both white and black, not singly or scattering, but in long rows;
in whole companies. The ground is blue with Union dead. They all lay on their
calmly, peacably [sic] sleeping; while the battle rages all around, Jeff. Davis
is reaping a rich harvest of dead.”
When the black troops who were supposed to lead the attack were able to make
their way to the front, the Confederates under General Mahone counter-attacked.
A member of the 115th remembers what happened. “They started off in fine
style, and we moved up taking their places, but they had not gone far before
they wavered, then halted, and the enemy taking advantage of this charged upon
them, and the negroes immediately turned and fled, reaching our lines in the
utmost disorder and fright, tumbling, rolling and falling over the walls upon
our men, bruising and wounding many.”  Charles Kline bitterly relates
the incident in a letter home, “All we had gained was lost by the cowardice
of the black scorpions who are called human. But for them I might now be writing
in Petersburg.”  According to both Lieutenant Clark and James Reid
the advancing Confederates had hidden their guns, giving the illusion that
were to surrender,
and took the black troops off guard when they opened fire.
The mass of the Union army retreated the field, but Co. H of the 115th remained
with their colors. The men of Co. H and a few remaining brave souls of the
regiment fought it out. After Colonel Sammons is wounded in the leg, they finally
into fate and retreated. During the hard fighting their flag was pierced by
nine bullets and the staff was shot to pieces.
They spend the rest of the day sitting in the trench among dead men and listening
to the wounded cry for help from in between the lines. Lieutenant Clark remembers, “A
heap of dead men lie beside us in the trenches; one shot through the right
eye, and the blood trickling out; a second shot through the heart, and his
are bathed in blood; a third begrimed with powder so that we cannot tell if
he be white or black, is cut in halves. A grey-haired old man, bordering on
score years and ten, lies down the hill, his white locks red with blood. The
wounded are groaning, and some beg to be killed so as to be out of their misery,
while nearly all desire to be carried to the hospital.”
The Union army spent the following months of summer and fall attacking the
Confederate flanks which stretched from Petersburg all the way to Richmond.
forced Lee to stretch his defensive line almost to the breaking point. During
this time the 115th fought the battles of Deep Bottom, Fort Gilmer, and Darby
Town Road. The night before they were to storm Fort Gilmer, a member of the
regiment remarked that it was no use storming the fort because it was to strong.
guard Charles B. Fellows replied “If we were all like you, we would never
accomplish any thing.”  The next day leading the regiment Fellows
was wounded in the leg. His comrades tried to drag him from the field, but
man and had to be left behind. The rebels left him lying there suffering from
his wound and even taunted him. One rebel even came up to him and said “You've
got it now, aint [sic] you, Yank?”  He then took Fellows’ cap.
Fellows eventual gave one rebel his gold watch so he would take him to some
comfort. After being left out in the field for twenty-four hours, this rebel
let him wait another five hours during the cold night before taking him to
a hospital. His leg was amputated and he was held till parole. When he was
he was starved nearly to death and lived long enough for his wife and father
to be with him when he died. In early December the 115th left on an expedition
to North Carolina.
Some operation took place during the winter, but nothing of particular note.
By spring, Lee’s army was starved and stretched beyond its capacity. Lee
decided it was time to abandon Petersburg and Richmond so as not to be captured.
He came to the conclusion that if a section of the Union line could be captured,
Grant would have to shorten his line, thereby giving the Confederates room to
escape south and hook up with Confederate General Joe Johnston’s army.
Before dawn on March 25th, Confederate troops surprised and captured Fort
Stedman. The success was short lived however; the neighboring forts opened
them. When the Union troops counterattacked, the Confederates retreated. On
Union General Phillip Sheridan’s force attempted to flank the Confederate
line on its western end. He was stopped at a place called Five Forks by Confederate
Calvary under Fitz Lee and Infantry under Pickett. Sheridan was repulsed, but
on April 1st he attacked again with both his infantry and cavalry and routed
the Confederates. That night Grant ordered an assault all along the line for
the next day. On April 2nd the Union troops broke through the line in several
places. Dr. Stevens of the 77th remembers the charge of the 6th Corps that helped
break the Confederate line “At half-past four in the morning of April 2d,
the signal gun from Fort Fisher sounded the advance. Without wavering, through
the darkness, the wedge which was to split the confederacy was driven home.” The
Confederate line collapsed and all that was left was the inner defenses of the
city. By the morning of April 3rd Lee’s army was on the run with Grant’s
army in hot pursuit.
- James Finelli, BA (pending), The University at Albany
1. 115th Newspaper Clippings p.22.
2. Charles Kline, Civil War Letters, 1862-1864 p. 15.
3. George T. Stevens, Three Years in the Sixth Corps. (Albany: S. R.
1866) p. 365.
4. James H. Clark, The Iron Hearted Regiment: Being an Account of the Battles,
Marches and Gallant Deeds Performed by the 115th N. Y. Vols. (Albany, NY: J.
1865) p. 138
5. Robert F. Morrow Jr., 77th New York Volunteers: “sojering” in
the VI Corps (Shippensburg, PA: White Mane Publishing Company, Inc., 2004)
6. Charles Kline, Civil War Letters, 1862-1864 p. 17
7. James E. Reid, 115th Scrapbook p. 59
11. James E. Reid, 115th Scrapbook p. 60
13. A. C. Musgrove, 115th Newspaper Clippings p. 24
14. James H. Clark, The Iron Hearted Regiment: Being an Account of the Battles,
and Gallant Deeds Performed by the 115th N. Y. Vols. p. 141-142
15. James H. Clark, The Iron Hearted Regiment: Being an Account of the Battles,
and Gallant Deeds Performed by the 115th N. Y. Vols. p. 145
16. James H. Clark, The Iron Hearted Regiment: Being an Account of the Battles,
and Gallant Deeds Performed by the 115th N. Y. Vols. p. 150
18. 115th Newspaper Clippings p. 25
19. Charles Kline, Civil War Letters, 1862-1864 p. 20
20. James H. Clark, The Iron Hearted Regiment: Being an Account of the Battles,
and Gallant Deeds Performed by the 115th N. Y. Vols. p. 153.
21. James H. Clark, The Iron Hearted Regiment: Being an Account of the Battles,
and Gallant Deeds Performed by the 115th N. Y. Vols. p. 225.
James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New
York: Ballantine Books, 1988.
Noah Andre Trudeau, The Last Citadel: Petersburg, Virginia, June 1864-April
1865. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1991.
Historical Times, Inc., Great Battles of the Civil War New York. New York:
Gallery Books, 1984.
Links to unit pages
77th New York Volunteer Infantry
115th New York Volunteer Infantry
Back to the Civil War Battle Summaries
New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History
March 14, 2006