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

Post image for Army letters of Oliver Willcox Norton.

Army letters of Oliver Willcox Norton.

August 2, 2012

Army letters of Oliver Willcox Norton (Eighty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers)

Harrison’s Landing, James River, Va.,

Saturday, August 2, 1862.

Dear Sister L.:—

We have had very dull times for a long while, at least dull to us. Very little drill or other duty, no picket duty or trenching, and not much of anything doing to create any excitement at all. Night before last, however, we had a little bit of an entertainment, just by way of variety, that stirred us up a little for the time being.

We are lying on a point of land formed by a bend in the river, and this point is just as thickly studded with camps as it can be, clear to the river’s edge. The river is full of transports, steamers, tugs and all kinds of craft, and beyond them, in a long black line, the gunboats usually lie guarding the other craft and acting as pickets, but with steam up and ready to move to any other place ordered. Thursday was a rainy, muggy sort of a day, and the night cloudy and very dark. The gunboats had all but one gone to some point up the river, and the army had gone to bed and to sleep, little dreaming of an attack. I was sound asleep in my tent, when, just after midnight, the report of a dozen pieces of artillery and the screaming of as many shells over and through the camp awoke me very suddenly. It seems that the rebels had brought some eighteen pieces of artillery right down to the bank of the river opposite to our camp, taking advantage of the darkness and the absence of the gunboats, and, when they had everything ready, opened on us all at once, and if you don’t believe they sent their shot and shell over here pretty rapidly for a while, I only wish you could have been here to see, that’s all. I bounced out of my tent to see what was going on. It was very cloudy and dark, and looking down towards the river, I could see the flash of the guns’ streams of fire, and the little spark in the air that marked the course of the shells. They came in all directions and it made a pretty lively stir through the camps. “Where are the gunboats?” was in everybody’s mouth. “Are we going to lie here and be shelled out?” But the answer soon came. Screaming along the river, whistling and snorting their impatience to “get into posish,” came the Monitor, the Galena and others, and the one down the river came quickly back and “opened on ’em.” I tell you the thunder of those ponderous guns is music to us, but I fancy the rebs don’t like it. It did not take many of her two-foot shells to scatter their batteries of light artillery, though it was so dark that there was nothing to aim at but the flash of their guns. They were silenced and they skedaddled. They did not do much damage—killed a few men and some horses, but it made quite a little episode. It showed us that we were closely watched.

Yesterday the Michigan regiment in our brigade and some other troops went over to a large house that stands in plain sight of camp, and burnt it with all the barns and other buildings. It was said to be the residence of an intense rebel, Edmund Ruffin, father of the man who fired the first gun at Fort Sumter, and was a magnificent residence, and used by the rebels as a lookout on our movements. Ruffin has met a just retribution.[1]

[1] Note. —This statement, founded on camp rumor, was an error. The home of Edmund Ruffin, the man who fired the first gun at Fort Sumter, is mentioned in letter of August 11

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