Artillerists’ voices

Two members of the Union Army’s 6th New York Heavy Artillery — my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull’s unit — kept diaries of their experiences during the U.S. Civil War. Their journals give voice to what he and his comrades endured on the march and in battle 150 years ago.

Artillery Line Bloody Angle
4 May 2014: Army of the Potomac artillery line at Battle of the Muleshoe reenactment. Photo by Molly Charboneau

Part of the Civil War Diary of Captain John Gedney (1862-1864) chronicles the successive battles of the Overland Campaign my ancestor participated in — the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House,  Harris Farm, North Anna.

His short entries speak volumes: “we left the Works after dark and marched all night through the mud knee deep” (13 May 1864) — “had a sharp fight which lasted about 3 hours__when we drove the enemy off the field” (19 May 1864) — “we laid in the field all night strengthening our Works” (30  May 1864).

Was my ancestor one of the heavy artillerists assigned to infantry in some of the Overland battles? Maybe so. Capt. Gedney’s 18 March 1864 entry says “the Regt received new Springfield Muskets.”

Letters from Col. J. Howard Kitching, commander of the 6th NYHA, appear in the book More than Conqueror. On 31 May 1864 he wrote from a rifle pit, “My brigade was assigned permanently to this division yesterday morning as an infantry command.”

The detailed accounts in the Civil War Diary of William Thistleton (1862-1865) may have been written after the war from notes and memory. But for me, Sgt. Thistleton’s first-hand descriptions of everyday camp life and the later battles of the Civil War add depth to my ancestor’s experience.

Taken together, these writings help fill in the gaps in Arthur Bull’s story — the next best thing to having my great, great grandfather tell it himself.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

 

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