Tag Archives: Bermuda Hundred

To hospital at Fort Monroe

During early March 1865, the 6th New York Heavy Artillery — my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull’s regiment — formed part of the defenses of Bermuda Hundred, Va.

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/96516942/
Reception of the wounded soldiers by the national authorities at Fortress Monroe, Va., showing the cars conveying them to the hospital and surgeons dressing their wounds (1862). My ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was admitted to the hospital at Fort Monroe on 15 March 1865. Image: Library of Congress

Battles raged further south as Union forces under Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman — having completed their march to the sea — advanced north through the Carolinas toward Richmond, Va., to meet up with the Union Army of the Potomac.

In Washington, D.C., on 4 March, President Abraham Lincoln was sworn in for his second term  — delivering a second inaugural address calling for post-war reconciliation, “With malice toward none, with charity for all.”

Yet the lines where my great, great grandfather Arthur was stationed, about halfway between Richmond and Petersburg, Va., remained relatively quiet — and Union soldiers on duty with him were hopeful.

“Should Sherman be successful, I am confident the war will soon be at an end,” wrote my ancestor’s fellow artillerist Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds in a 1 March letter to his wife.

Then, on 26 March he wrote that “a movement is anticipated soon should the weather continue favorable.”

However, my great, great grandfather would not be part of that 6th NYHA movement — for in mid-March, his health flagging, he was transferred back to hospital.

According to a 27 Jan. 1884 report in Arthur’s pension file from the U.S. War Dept., Surgeon General’s Office, Record and Pension Division:

Priv. Arthur T. Bull, Col. L, 6′ N.Y.H.A was admitted to G.H. Fort Monroe, Va. March 15, ’65 with functional disease of the heart…

My ancestor had been troubled by heart and lung complaints since he “gave out” on the march during the spring 1864 Overland Campaign.

Then, he was sent away from the front to De Camp Hospital in New Rochelle, Westchester Co, N.Y., for treatment during the summer — rejoining his 6th NYHA regiment in the fall for the Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

This time — after being in and out of hospital in January 1865 — Arthur was sufficiently ill to again be removed from duty and transferred on 15 March to a hospital away from the front lines.

My great, great grandfather would remain in the 1,800-bed Union Army General Hospital at Fort Monroe — for treatment of what now sounds like a chronic heart condition — until being returned to duty on 2 May 1865.

More on this in future posts.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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The Rebs do not charge as they once did

By mid-February 1865, the 6th New York Heavy Artillery — my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull’s regiment — had weathered rough wartime conditions, endured heavy marching, fought relentless battles to end slavery and preserve the Union, and at last seen major victories against the Confederates.

Now, they were engaged in a new kind of combat — for the hearts and minds of the Southern soldiers — and they were winning that fight, too. In his diary, Sgt. William Thistleton of the 6th NYHA chronicled the steady increase in Confederate desertions.

May 2014: Battle of Saunders Field reenactment, Spotsylvania Court House, Va. In Feb. 1865, at the front near Petersburg, Va., where my ancestor was stationed, Union soldiers noticed the Confederates did not charge as they once did. Photo by Molly Charboneau
May 2014: Battle of Saunders Field reenactment, Spotsylvania Court House, Va. In Feb. 1865, at the front near Petersburg, Va., where my ancestor was stationed, Union soldiers noticed the Confederates did not charge as they once did. Photo by Molly Charboneau

He described how he and other Union soldiers — among them my great, great grandfather — refused to fire when the Southern soldiers crossed into their lines along the James River near Petersburg, Va.

February 14th. The rebels made another assault on our picket line at 8 p.m. but were repulsed in about 10 minutes the rebel officers finding that deserting were on the increase and that when they fired on deserters we will not reply have adopted this system of night surprises to induce firing on our side and thus deter their men from crossing the lines but unfortunately that “dog won’t run”…

Our men knew the difference between deserting than a surprise party, after a little brush tonight a Major, a Captain, a Lieutenant and 18 men came into our lines they had joined a surprise party for the purpose of deserting and during the fighting had taken occasion to hide in some bushes until the fracas was over when they attracted the attention the vidette [the mounted sentry on picket or guard duty] who sent him in.

Feb. 17th another dash on our lines tonight lasted about five minutes no-body hurt.

Another of my ancestor’s fellow soldiers, Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds of the 6th NYHA, corroborated this experience. In a letter to his wife, he summed up the demoralization that had set in among Confederate troops.

Feb. 17th – The Johnnies continue to come in as usual. Seven of them came into our regiment on picket last night, and 10 privates and a sergeant in a squad came into the 10th N.Y. posted on our right….

The fact is, the Rebs are getting discouraged and, since the failure of the peace commissioners, they are deserting in greater numbers than previous to the meeting…The Rebs do not charge as they once did.

The 6th NYHA was now made up of seasoned combatants. My ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull had been with the regiment for more than a year, Sgt. Thistleton for longer than that — and Pvt. Reynolds was in the Union Army nearly six months.

Schooled by combat, they became keen observers of the nuances of the battlefield. And there was no clearer sign that the Union cause was prevailing than Confederate troops willing to risk their lives — for they would be executed if caught — to cross into federal lines.

I am amazed and proud to descend from a great, great grandfather who was there to witness this incredible turn of history.

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The rebellion is nearly played out

On 16 Feb. 1865, Union Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds — a soldier in my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull’s 6th New York Heavy Artillery regiment — wrote an optimistic letter to his wife from Bermuda Hundred, Va., saying, “The war news with us are favorable.”

He, Arthur and other Union soldiers at the front could plainly see that the Confederate Army was disintegrating — and they followed orders not to shoot at Southern deserters coming into federal lines.

“We here think that the rebellion is nearly played out & that another vigorous campaign will finish it up if the Rebs do not sooner give up,” he wrote, describing for his wife the steady increase in Confederate desertions.

August 2014: Union reenactors on Governors Island, N.Y. During February 1865, Union soldiers were ordered not to shoot at Confederates defectors crossing over into federal lines. Photo by Molly Charboneau
August 2014: Union reenactors on Governors Island, N.Y. During February 1865, Union soldiers were ordered not to shoot at Confederates defectors crossing over into federal lines. Photo by Molly Charboneau

The Johnnies continue to come into our lines. Last night fifteen came into the lines where our battalion was posted. How many come in on other parts of the line I have not yet [discovered]. Three companies constitute a battalion and about one third are on picket at a time.

The Rebel soldiers are deserting and coming into our lines now, more or less every night. I think this state of things can’t be very encouraging to the rebel leaders.

Pvt. Reynolds — and likely my great, great grandfather as well — continued to stand picket duty. But the nature of that duty changed as the war moved steadily toward a Union victory. Again from Pvt. Reynolds’ February 16 letter.

Night before last the bullets whistled about our ears pretty lively for a few minutes. However, no one was injured. The firing was occasioned by the Rebs deserting and coming into our lines.

It seems that the two who came in had an understanding with their comrades on the post that they would let them get near our lines and out of immediate danger before they called halt and fired.

In cases of this kind our men do not return fire. Our orders are not to fire unless the enemy are advancing. I am well satisfied that many of the rebel soldiers do not want to fight us any longer, and would not if they could help it.

As you will read in the next post, Pvt. Reynolds’ experience was echoed in the diary of Sgt. William Thistleton of the 6th NYHA regiment — an experience likely shared by my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull, who was stationed with them.

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Fraternization at the front

After the February 1865 peace talks failed to end the U.S. Civil War, Union soldiers at Bermuda Hundred, Va. — where my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was stationed — did what they could to move things along.

May 2014: Confederate reenactors' encampment, Spotslyvania Court House, Va. Toward the end of the Civil War, battlefield banter with Union troops encouraged Confederate soldiers to desert. Photo by Molly Charboneau
May 2014: Confederate reenactors’ encampment, Spotslyvania Court House, Va. Toward the end of the Civil War, enchanging battlefield banter with Union troops encouraged Confederate soldiers to desert. Photo by Molly Charboneau

The Union Army was marching irrevocably toward securing the Union and — together with the African American population and the valiant U.S. Colored Troops — destroying the brutal slave system.

With the war’s end in sight and longing for peace, soldiers from North and South began to fraternize across the battle lines.

My great, great grandfather’s 6th New York Heavy Artillery regiment arrived at Bermuda Hundred in January 1865. They were promptly heckled by Confederate soldiers who had opposed them at Cedar Creek in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Sgt. William Thistleton of the 6th NYHA recorded one such incident in his diary and described the effect of this battlefield banter on Confederate troops:

January 1st, 1865: …as our lines were only about 150 yards conversation was easy as soon as they discovered that the 6th N.Y.H. Artillery was in front of them one of the rebs jumped up and sang out, ‘I say boys here is the Big Six come all the way from Cedar Creek for their knapsacks you had better get ready to hand them over,’ then turning towards us he inquired, ‘Say Yanks aint you been cold this winter without your over-coats and blankets?’

As may be imagined they had the laugh on us until one of our men replied, ‘ “No Johnny” we haven’t been cold we kept warm by drilling on those eighty pieces of artillery you left in the valley.’

Chaffing was the order of the day on both sides yet quite friendly relations were kept up. Our men would go out  half way between the lines and invite the rebs to dine with them the result of this intercourse tended to swell the number of deserters but at last the rebel officers smelt a mice and would not let their men to talk with us.”

My ancestor Arthur Bull fell ill at Cedar Creek in November 1864 and was admitted to hospital at Bermuda Hundred on 3 Jan. 1865. In poor health, he may not have been on the barricades with the 6th NYHA when this exchange took place. But records in his pension file indicate he returned to his regiment from hospital on 30 Jan. 1865.

Which leaves me wondering: As more and more Confederate soldiers crossed over to federal lines during February 1865 — steadily weakening the South’s army — was Arthur among the Union soldiers who encouraged them?

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Fort Brady: Artillery sounds the alarm

On 23 Jan. 1865, my great, great grandfather Pvt. Arthur Bull’s regiment — the 6th New York Heavy Artillery — was stationed at Fort Brady in Virginia. But was my ancestor on duty with them or in hospital?

Fort Brady on the James River in Bermuda Hundred, Va. My ancestor's 6th NYHA regiment was stationed here during the last naval battle of the U.S. Civil War. Image:  Library of Congress
Parrot guns at Fort Brady on the James River in Bermuda Hundred, Va. (1864)  My ancestor’s 6th NYHA regiment was stationed  here in Jan. 1865 and engaged with Confederate forces before the last major naval battle of the U.S. Civil War. Image: Library of Congress

The U.S. War Dept., Surgeon General’s Office, Record and Pension Division provided a report on 27 Jan. 1884 for his pension application, which says:

He entered hospit. Point of Rocks, Va. Jan’y 16, ’65 with Heart Disease, and was returned to duty Jan’y 30, ’65. He also appears as admitted to that hospit. Jan’y 24, ’65 with Boil…

If Arthur was already in hospital at Point of Rocks on 16 January, why would he need to be “admitted” to the same hospital on 24 January?

If he was discharged for a time — then readmitted — could he have been stationed with the 6th NYHA at Fort Brady during the last major naval battle of the Civil War?

Fort Brady was part of a string of Union Army fortifications near Richmond, Va., that extended north from the James River to Fort Harrison. It was built after the battles of September 1864 to blockade the Confederate fleet upriver.

On 22 Jan. 1865 — while the bulk of the Union Navy was engaged at Fort Fisher in North Carolina — the Confederate navy began testing the federal blockade. Sgt. William Thistleton of the 6th NYHA described the events of that day and the next in his diary:

Jan. 22nd: about 9 P.M. the rebels made another attack in force on the right of our line near the James river and at the same time three of their iron-clads attempted to pass the obstructions just above “crow-nest” battery the infantry attack was easily repulsed not lasting more than half an hour but the batteries and the rebel fleet kept it up all night.

Jan. 23rd: at 9 a.m. a shell from our batteries entered the rebel ram Jamestown and exploding in her magazine blew her up and of the crew of 64 men but 11 escaped…the [6th NYHA] regiment which had been under arms all night were returned to their quarters at 10 a.m.

Sgt. Thistleton provides no further details of 6th NYHA involvement in subsequent events at Fort Brady. But on the night of 23 Jan. 1865, a large Confederate flotilla tried to ram its way down the James River in the darkness. Their aim: to destroy the Union supply base at City Point, Va.

Union lookouts spotted the flotilla, and the batteries at Fort Brady fired sonorous rounds at the passing fleet. The big guns, aimed at the opposite shore, could not stop the Confederate ships.

But their booming salvos alerted Union forces downriver. Thus began the Civil War’s last significant naval confrontation — the Battle of Trent’s Reach — in which Union forces prevailed on 24 Jan. 1865.

Records indicate that my great, great grandfather was admitted that day to hospital at Point of Rocks, Bermuda Hundred, Va., for treatment of a boil — no small medical matter under wartime conditions in the days before antibiotics. He likely remained there until he was returned to duty on 30 Jan. 1865.

I can’t be sure, 150 years later, what role my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull played at Fort Brady. But I like to think that he may have been stationed with his regiment — however briefly — when Union forces repulsed a land attack and confronted the Confederate fleet’s advance guard ahead of the last great naval battle of the U.S. Civil War.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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