Monthly Archives: December 2014

Trial By Wood

PLEASE NOTE: Because of the Christmas and New Year holidays, my next post is scheduled for Friday, January 9, 2015. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a safe and healthy New Year.

As you warm yourself at your fireside during this yuletide season, consider the following quest for firewood as related by Sgt. B. E. Stannard (14th CT, Co. G) in History of the Fourteenth Regt., Connecticut Vol. Infantry by Charles D. Page:

At Fort Morton, on the line before Petersburg, in the winter of 1864-5, wood became a scarce article, and it was no small part of our work to find a supply and get it into the camp. Every tree for miles around had been cut, even to the roots. There was also a class of men who were very shy about exerting themselves to do such work as required them to cut and carry wood into camp and cut it again ready for use. As the men were usually in ‘a mess’ of from four to six that tented together (when we had tents) it was the custom for each to do his part toward keeping up the supplies of wood and water. A certain mess consisted of four, and among them was a man of the class noted for lack of energy such as required him to gather wood. This man we will call George.

The fort was located on the line where the sharpshooters had a good range and were not slow to fire at anything that offered a target. A tree stood in front of the fort on the slope and in full range of the sharpshooters and exposed to the extent that no one had ventured to go out and cut it. One day wood was especially scarce and George was invited to contribute a little of his energy toward increasing the supply. As usual he had some very important excuse and could not assist in the undertaking. The patience of the other three became exhausted and he was given to understand that he should do his share in replenishing the supply, and do it at once, or take the consequences.

He said he didn’t know where to get any. The tree standing in front of the fort was pointed out to him and he was told to go out and cut it. He demurred, saying he did not believe any of the crowd would dare to go out there and cut it. One of the boys took this for a challenge and said, ‘I’ll go out and cut half way into the tree if you’ll expose your carcass to cut the other half.’

Well, George could do nothing but accept, so an axe was found and the challenger started over the fort and made quick time to the tree. He didn’t stop to make many observations, not much, Johnny Reb would find him quick enough. He put in his best strokes and soon had his half of the tree cut, meanwhile the sharpshooters had got the range and were prepared to give George a warm reception. George was gritty enough to fell the tree and ran for the fort. The tree was left until dark and then cut up and taken to the ‘gophers,’ as our bomb proofs were called. George was not called on for wood again for some time.

Winter Quarters: Take 3

With the end of the autumn campaign season, it was time for the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry to build quarters in which they would live for the winter. It would be the third winter in the field for the veterans who had been mustered in August 1862. Their previous two experiences with building winter quarters were not pleasant. In my post of 12/07/2012 “Eve of Battle,” I wrote of how the men had to stop building their log huts and march across the Rappahannock River to fight in the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg. The following year, as I related in my post of 12/13/2013 Winter Quarters Again…and Again…and Again,” they built their log huts five times, because they were ordered to move their camp four times. Their experience in December 1864 would be little different.

On the 30th of November, the Fourteenth Connecticut, along with the rest of their brigade, marched to relieve a portion of the Ninth Corps near Fort Morton on the southeast side of Petersburg. The men had just begun building log huts when on Dec. 5th, they were told to march early on the 6th to relieve the Fifth Corps that was departing on its mission to destroy the Weldon Railroad (see last week’s post).  The men spent several days here, using their tents for shelter, then moved about a mile to Patrick Station. This place was probably a depot, named for Gen. Marsena Patrick, on the US Military Railroad that brought food and ammunition to the men from City Point.

At Patrick Station good fortune smiled on the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut, for a few days anyway. They moved into log huts that had already been built by someone else. However, on Dec 13th they were marched back to Fort Morton where they first started to build their huts two weeks before. Their huts were no more. They had been broken down and all the logs the men had cut and all the planks they had hewn had been carried off to some other encampment. All of their work been for nothing.

But they would remain near Fort Morton, directly across from The Crater where the mine had exploded under the Rebels’ works back on July 30th. There was nothing for them to do but break out the axes, saws, adzes, and spades and begin again.

Destruction of the Weldon Railroad

On December 7, 1864, a strong force of infantry, cavalry, and artillery under the command of Maj. Gen. G. K. Warren left the Petersburg entrenchments and marched south along the Jerusalem Plank Road. Their mission was to destroy as many miles of the Weldon Railroad as they could, making it impossible for the Rebels to rebuild, and the task of getting much needed supplies into Petersburg all the more difficult. The infantry was comprised of Warren’s Fifth Corps augmented by Mott’s Third Division of the Second Corps. The other two divisions of the Second Corps, including our friends in Fourteenth Connecticut were not involved in what became known as “Warren’s Raid,” but were ordered to occupy the works vacated by the Fifth Corps.

The letter below was written by Capt. Benjamin F. Oakes of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery. This letter is from the Civil War Archives at Virginia Military Institute and is used with their permission. I include it here because it describes activities very similar to those the men of the Fourteenth were engaged in before they were sorely defeated at Ream’s Station. (Click to review my post.)

Headquarters, 1st Maine Heavy Artillery
In the Field
December 13th, 1864

Dear Sir:

Yours of the 8th inst. reached me this morning and found me roughing it as usual.

The 5th Corps and one Div. of the 2nd (3rd Div) have just returned from a raid on the enemy’s communications. We started at daylight last Wednesday morn, taking the Jerusalem Plank road and crossed the “Nottoway” the first night and there camped, making some 20 miles from camp the first day.

Started at daylight next morn and marched all day without accident, the 5 corps in advance, camping at night near “Jarratt’s Station.” The 5 corps were busy tearing up the railroad (Weldon) that night, and in the morning we commenced following their example. We have made a complete wreck of the Weldon road for nearly 20 miles, viz. from above “Jarratt’s” to “Hickford” (now Emporia) on the Meherrin river.

It would have done you good to see how we destroyed this great artery of rebel life. In the first place we stacked arms alongside the road and the line marched on it and grasping the rails and ends of the “sleepers” on one side, we just turned it right over! Then commenced the work of separating the sleepers from the rails, which was no easy job, for it was a very well constructed road, and of the best material both the iron & wood. Northern “mudsills” soon found a way, however, by means of the Telegraph posts which stood by the road at short intervals.

The sleepers separated, we built piles of them, and dry fence rails, which were also handy, and piled the rails across the top of the pile with a short bearing in the center, and set fire to it. The fire burned everything in the wood line, and so heated the rails, that the ends bent to the ground thus rendering them useless. Our boys made short work of it I tell you. But a few minutes elapsed from the time of taking hold until the rails were heating.

Coming back, we made clean work of the buildings on the route in retaliation for some of our men who were unable to keep up with the column, being murdered and mutilated. Sussex C. H. went up with all the buildings thereabouts. I enclose an ancient specimen of book keeping, which came from a store near the C. H. I would like to write you a long letter about the incidents of the raid, but have not time. We arrived back in camp yesterday (Monday) afternoon.

Remember me to all the family, and friends.
B. F. Oakes

J. S. Richardson, Esq.
P.S. I think Warren is a prisoner

Below are four sketches by A. A. Warren of Warren’s destruction of the Weldon Railroad that appeared in the December 31, 1864 issue of Harper’s Weekly. It’s exactly the way Captain Oakes described it.

warrens raid 1weldon-railroad-1weldon-railroad-2warrens raid 2