Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Post image for Diary of David L. Day.

Diary of David L. Day.

May 8, 2014

David L Day–My diary of rambles with the 25th Mass

We Leave Yorktown.

May 8. On the afternoon of the 4th we went aboard the boats and dropped anchor at Fortress Monroe at dusk. The next morning we started up the James river. The river was alive with boats, schooners, tugs, gunboats, monitors and everything that could float, all loaded to their fullest capacity with troops, horses, artillery and all the paraphernalia of war. We passed Jamestown in the afternoon. Nothing now remains to mark the spot where the first settlement in Virginia was made, but a pile of bricks which composed a part of one of the buildings. We reached City Point just before night. Gen. Heckman’s brigade landed on the Bermuda Hundred side and bivouacked a short distance from the landing, all the other troops remaining aboard the boats. The gunboats and monitors commenced fishing for torpedoes and working their way up the James and Appomatox rivers.

The next morning, the 6th, the troops commenced to land and Heckman’s brigade was ordered to advance. We marched up the country six or seven miles, getting on to high ground and what is called Cobb’s Hill. From here the spires of the churches, in Petersburg can be seen, while in front of us is a kind of valley. At this point the Appomatax river turns in a southwesterly direction. On the banks between us and Petersburg was a battery. This is called a good position and here we halted. We sat here under a burning sun, watching the long lines of troops come up and file off to the right into the woods towards the James river until past the middle of the afternoon, at which time the whole of the 18th and 10th corps., comprising the army of the James, under Gen. B. F. Butler, had arrived.

Heckman’s Brigade Leads Off The Dance.

About 4 p. m., Gen. Heckman is ordered to make a reconnoisance towards the Petersburg and Richmond railroad. We moved down the valley in a southwesterly direction, and when about three miles out the 27th Massachusetts were advanced as skirmishers. A mile or two farther on we began to hear scattering shots, indicating that our skirmishers had found game. We hurried on and found the enemy in a shallow cut, on a branch railroad running from Port Walthal to the Petersburg and Richmond road. A sharp skirmish ensued, lasting till near dark, when Heckman withdrew, having accomplished his purpose of finding the enemy. In this skirmish the 25th lost four killed and several wounded.

The next morning, the 7th, we moved on them in force, Gen. Brooks’ division moving directly on the Petersburg and Richmond railroad. Heckman’s brigade, with a section of a battery, were ordered to occupy the ground of the night before. The enemy were in strong force and opened on us with artillery. Heckman paid no attention to that, but moved his battalions into line on the field in columns by division, and ordered them to lie down. The 25th were partially covered by a slight roll of ground in our front, while the 27th Massachusetts on our left were badly exposed to the enemy’s fire and were suffering severely. Heckman saw the situation and ordered Col. Lee to move his regiment to the rear of us. He then ordered forward his artillery, placing them in battery in our front and set them to work. They made the rail fences and dust fly right smart. After a few shots had been fired a loud explosion was heard, followed by a big cloud of smoke, dust and debris in the enemy’s line. One of their caissons had blown up, and our boys rose up and gave rousing cheers. Our guns continued shelling them, but got no return fire, their ammunition was probably exhausted and their guns perhaps disabled.

There was no infantry firing on either side, we simply holding our line and watching events. Heavy firing was heard over on the railroad. Brooks was at them and a fight for the railroad was going on. We were masters of the situation here and were able to protect his flank. About noon the enemy got an old gun into position and commenced throwing chunks of railroad iron at us. This caused considerable sport among the boys and they would cheer them lustily every time they fired, but a few shots from our guns, put a quietus on that sport. I have often read and heard of that kind of practice, but never saw any of it until now.

In the afternoon a battery of four 20-pounder parrott guns drove up, taking positions on a roll of ground some 20 rods in our rear and commenced firing. I at first thought they were shelling the enemy in front of us, and was a little surprised at it as all was quiet on both sides. But I soon noticed they were not. I got permission from Capt. Emery and went up there. Here was a signal officer, and nearly half a mile away to the northwest was a group of men signaling to this battery. The guns were at quite an elevation, and they would train them a little to the right or left, as directed by the signal officer. They were throwing. shells over the woods and dropping them among the enemy over on the railroad, some two miles away. Those shells were reported to be very annoying to the enemy and of great service to Brooks. It was splendid artillery practice and I was greatly interested in it. While watching them shy those shells over the woods I wondered where those devils over there thought they came from.

Towards night it was signaled that Brooks had accomplished his purpose, tearing up several miles of road and was drawing back to our line. The day’s work was over and we drew back to Cobb’s Hill. In this day’s fight the 27th Massachusetts sustained its greatest loss, while the 25th suffered the worst in last night’s affair. The heat was intense, and the men suffered severely, many of them being prostrated and carried back in ambulances.

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