Peace rumors: Castles in the air

On 2 Feb. 1865 — while my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull was stationed with his 6th New York Heavy Artillery regiment near Dutch Gap in Virginia — the James River froze solid near Richmond.

Gen Hosp at Point of Rocks, Va. 33640r
General Hospital at Point of Rocks, Va. (1861-1865) On 30 Jan. 1865, my ancestor Arthur Bull was released from this hospital and rejoined his 6th NYHA regiment as rumors of peace swept through the camps. Photo: Library of Congress.

Yet even in the bitter cold, the Union Army and its works were kept in fighting shape. My great, great grandfather’s 6th NYHA compatriot Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds described the situation in a 5 Feb. 1865 letter to his wife.

My time is now nearly all occupied in picketing, shoveling, dirt drilling, etc., Sundays not excepted….Our duties are very heavy which begin to tell on our men in the filling up of the hospitals. I have had a bad cold but am getting over it and am nearly as well as usual. It has been a very bad time for colds but very few escaped.

Conditions must have been difficult for my ancestor Arthur, who suffered from heart and lung complaints. He had just returned to his regiment from hospital on 30 Jan. 1865 when the cold weather intensified.

After the Hampton Roads Peace Conference failed to end the war, fighting resumed where it left off — though a longing for peace still permeated the ranks. Again, from Pvt. Reynolds’ letter.

Day before yesterday there was very heavy cannonading on our left towards Petersburgh. The results I have not learned. We are situated on the West side of the James River near Dutch Gap.

Our camp is occasionally filled with peace rumors which may be like castles in the air, pleasing to think of but soon vanish away. However, I hope and pray it will be otherwise….Some men here are confident that we shall have peace by the first of May next….I dream often of being at home, or home on a furlough…

Like Pvt. Reynolds, my great, great grandfather was a family man with a wife and three small children at home. Surely Arthur also longed for peace and a chance to see his family at the end of the war.

And there were growing signs — amid the roar and smoke of battle — that the Civil War was entering its final phase. Chief among these was the steady flow of Confederate troops deserting to Union-held territory and the way the Union troops — likely including my ancestor — helped them to cross over.

More on this in the next post.

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