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.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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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.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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