A Sergeant’s Take on the Siege

Sergeant Charles G. Blatchley of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry (Co. I) was one of the principal commentators on the final months of the war in Charles D. Page’s History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Vol. Infantry. Blatchley gives the following matter-of-fact description of the siege at Petersburg. I’ve underlined a couple of phrases that are explained below.

The record of these nine months before Petersburg would make a very monotonous story. There are in them intensely stirring incidents: night attacks on both sides: the thrilling experience of creeping noiselessly up with bated breath toward their lines one moment, and the next enveloped in the blinding flash of suffocating smoke of battle. I only had this once, once was enough. Or lying behind our own works with the ready rifles loaded and capped as they were, even when we slept on them: peering through the darkness into the black space in front of us, to find it suddenly swarming full of the gray and the butternut in the mad attempt to break our lines. Or perhaps back in the bomb-proofs, which we had learned to build, after from eighteen to twenty-four hours duty in the front line, just lying down for a little rest, before our eyes were fairly closed to be called out by the quick sharp rattle of musketry or the heavy detonations of the mortars or the shrieking yell of the rifle cannon shots as they came tearing through the trees. One minute in those days was ample time to transform a sleeping soldier on the reserve into a soldier alert, armed and accoutered, all ready for business. We always slept with our clothes on and unless on the rear reserve with our accoutrements on and the right hand on the barrel of the rifle.

“…even when we slept on them.” It was a common thing for Civil War soldiers to “sleep on their arms” when faced with imminent threat, so they could be ready in an instant for combat.

“…shrieking yell of the rifle cannon shots…” The Confederate artillery had several Whitworth rifled cannons in their arsenal. These British imports had a range of over a mile and were very accurate. They fired a hexagonal shell which made a distinctive howling sound as it parted the air, and might be what Blatchley was referring to.

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