On 27 June 1865, my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull joined Co. E of the 6th New York Heavy Artillery — a consolidated battalion that was created at the end of the Civil War when 10th NYHA soldiers were transferred in to replace 6th NYHA soldiers who were returning home.
The reorganized 6th NYHA was assigned to provost guard duty in Petersburg, Va. from June – August 1865. This assignment speaks highly of the integrity of the men — among them my great, great grandfather.
They were tasked with keeping order in support of the Union Army’s political, economic and social service functions in a severely damaged city that lacked a civilian government at war’s end.
Sometimes this included serving as headquarters guard for Union officers — a duty my ancestor carried out at the headquarters of U.S. Brevet Major General Ferrero — or coming to the aid of the civilian population.
At war’s end, the Union Army also relied on the provost guards to keep order during the earliest stages of Reconstruction as it set about assisting and protecting the newly free African American population now that the brutal system of slavery had at last been eliminated.
Alas, my ancestor’s pension file contains little information about this period of his military service. But in a letter to his wife, one of his fellow soldiers — Pvt. Orson Reynolds of the 6th NYHA — wrote a humorous passage indicating that the dangers of battle appeared to be over.
Petersburg, Va. June 29, 1865: All is quiet within our lines and no great battles have been fought within the last few days of late in this vicinity except it be with mosquitoes and fleas which are somewhat troublesome [in] this warm weather.
As Pvt. Reynolds, my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull and their compatriots carried out their duties, they likely did so while longing for home now that the fighting was over — especially as they bid farewell to fellow soldiers who were being mustered out ahead of them. Again, from Pvt. Reynolds’ letter:
I read in the papers that great preparations are being made to celebrate the 4th in our State [New York]. Some time ago I hoped to be with you on that day but it was a vain hope and not to be realized…John O’Connor left Petersburgh (sic) for home some time ago and no doubt has reached it ere this.
And here I pause to express my gratitude to 6th NYHA Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds of Bombay, Franklin Co., N.Y., for his detailed, heartfelt letters home — the last of which is quoted above — and to his family members, who saved his letters and generously shared them by allowing them to be transcribed.
My great, great grandfather’s story would have been that much harder to tell had it not been for Pvt. Reynolds’ correspondence — written between September 1864 and June 1865 during a time when he shared by ancestor’s Civil War experience.
My great, great grandfather Pvt. Arthur Bull remained on duty in Petersburg, Va., through the summer of 1865, until he was mustered out with his company in August. More on this in the next post.
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