Daily Archives: January 9, 2015

Trench Life

Life in the trenches around Petersburg during the winter months was no picnic, but the ever-present sardonic humor of the regular foot soldier shines through in this account of living conditions at Fort Morton by Sgt. Stannard (14th CT, Co. G) in History of the Fourteenth Regt., Connecticut Vol. Infantry by Charles D. Page:

Fort Morton was on the line of works not far from the Appomattox River. Sharpshooters used an old chimney back about two miles from the line. Saps and mines (trenches and tunnels dug toward the enemy) and any other old thing was a go in those days, every man had to look out for himself when a sharpshooter got after him. If a man got a hole through his body it was just a ‘ventilator.’

At this place we were obliged to live under ground, like a gopher. The shells from the rebels came into our camp too thick to make it healthy to live on top of the ground. The line of works was at the crest of the hill so that the ground descended in the front and at the rear. To build our ‘bomb proof’ we dug a trench about six feet running directly to the rear and about five feet deep. This carried the water off and left the ground dry. To make them bomb proof we dug a trench about three feet wide starting from the main trench and dug it about five feet long, then we dug out a square hole in the ground at the end of this trench, this was dug to a level with the first trench and made the floor to our house. (The photo below is of bombproofs a short distance to the north at Fort Stedman. Notice the barrels topping the chimneys.)

bomb_proofsWe then took timbers, logs or anything we could find long enough to reach across the hole and covered the hole over, excepting a small opening over which we placed a pork barrel with both ends out. This was to be the chimney for we dug out a fireplace near one corner and then covered the top over with the dirt taken out of the hole, this was piled up as high as we could get dirt to pile up. The entrance was through the trench, for a door we hung up a piece of bagging. The fireplace was a hole cut into the side of the opening and had a flue cut up to the pork barrel through which the smoke escaped.

For bunks the lower one was on the ground, the upper one was placed directly over the lower and was made with pine poles held up by crotches set into the ground at each end. In this hole four men could keep house and feel that they were safe while inside as no shell could reach them. (Four men and only two bunks meant they slept in shifts.) With a couple of hardtack boxes for cupboards and the army blankets men could make themselves comfortable, and feel that it was a luxury compared with some of the accommodations furnished by Uncle Sam. This was the usual way of building quarters when the lay of the land would permit it. In such a place four of us of the Fourteenth Connecticut Regiment kept house for several months and were comfortable as comfort goes in the army.

At four o’clock every morning we were called out to stand in the breastworks until after daylight. This was to prevent a surprise, for it would be at this time that the enemy would be most likely to
try to be familiar. But he never found us napping. Did you ever see a new recruit when he was first under fire? Well, the fool would run the risk of having his blockhead blown off if any one
should tell him to keep down out of sight of the enemy, they wanted to show what brave idiots they were. I saw one leap up on the breastworks one morning. Well, he came down again, but he had the compliments of a sharpshooter with him in the shape of a piece of lead in his hip.