Postwar Petersburg

When my Union Army ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull returned to active service with his 6th N.Y. Heavy Artillery regiment on 2 May 1865, he reported to Blandford, Virginia, near Petersburg — a new location which brought new postwar duties.

By: Internet Archive Book Images
Civil War map of Petersburg, Va. My ancestor Arthur Bull was stationed in Blandford, Va., (upper right) in early May 1865 when Union Armies passed through en route to the post-war Grand Review of the Armies in Washington, D,C. Image: Internet Archive Book Images

On 3 May 1865  — the day after my ancestor’s return — Pvt. Orson Reynolds of the 6th NYHA sent an assessment of the situation to his wife.

The people of Virginia have had enough of war. I am told that there are some 12,000 poor white people who are daily fed by our government. The City has been very quiet and orderly since we came here and the inhabitants are getting quite sociable and friendly…The prospects now are that we shall stay here as long as troops are needed. In military matters all is uncertain.

Union troops that remained in the south after the Civil War’s end were tasked with restoring order, assisting the civilian population and holding the areas where they were stationed — duties my great, great grandfather would now perform.

Bur first Arthur would be on hand to witness the northward march of victorious Union Army units headed to Washington, D.C. for the final Grand Review of the Armies on 23-24 May. Again from Pvt. Orson Reynolds in Petersburg, Va.:

May 3rd, 1865: Sheridan’s Cavalry are now passing through the City on their way to Alexandria [Va.]. Three army corps have also passed for the same place and we will soon be the only remaining troops.

May 7th, 1865: I understand General Sherman’s army is but a short distance from the city and will probably pass through tomorrow on their way to Washington to be mustered out of the service.

My ancestor did not take part in the Grand Review — he remained on duty in Virginia until mustering out in August 1865. But I imagine he was amazed and proud to see the vast army of Union soldiers — including his fellow combatants from the Armies of the Potomac and Shenandoah — trekking north toward the U.S. capital, where they would be cheered by civilian crowds.

Of particular note would have been U.S. Gen. William Tecumsah Sherman’s 65,000-strong Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia — rough and ready Union soldiers accompanied by masses of newly-free African Americans. This diverse contingent personified the heart and soul of the successful struggle to end the brutal slave system — and would march for six hours during the Grand Review.

No doubt Arthur and his comrades gave them a hearty reception as they passed by the 6th NYHA camp en route to their final, glorious postwar march into history.

More in the next post.

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