The Buckeye State
July 7, 1864
New Lisbon, Ohio
The following letter from I. P. Farmer of the 143rd O.N.G. has been handed us for publication:
Wilson’s Landing, Virginia
June 22, 1864
Yours of the 17th was received today and were glad to hear from you. You will have heard before this reaches you that we did not stay at White House but left that place immediately for Bermuda Hundred to report to General Butler. On a trip from Washington to the front we passed many places of interest, at least to me. I was surprised to find Yorktown the insignificant place it is. I counted eight houses in the town and I believe that is all there are. In Hampton Roads I saw the masts of the Cumberland. You know the history of that noble ship. Jamestown is among the things that were. The James is a very wide river for a long way up from Fortress Monroe, crowded with gunboats and transports of all kinds. Mr. Lincoln has just passed down the river.
From Bermuda we went to Port Walthall or Point of Rocks. It was here I heard the first shell from a Rebel battery as it passed through the air. I confess it made me feel nervous but we soon got used to them and could stand on the breastworks and watch them explode with as much indifference as a game of ball. The next day after we got there, General Grant arrived with the Army of the Potomac and the 18th Corps under General “Baldy Smith” who moved out to the left about three miles when the Battle of Petersburg commenced. By night the first line of works had been carried. It was the first battle I was ever near and I watched all I could see of it all day with intense interest. The artillery firing was very heavy and rapid. The infantry fighting was done principally by the black troops and nobly did they repel the slander that “Niggers won’t fight.” Men who were in the fight told me that they charged several times to the mouths of the cannon in a Rebel fort and had to fall back. At the fifth charge they carried the works. The fort was in plain view of where I stood and I watched the volumes of white smoke it belched forth all day. The last charge was made after dark and during the time the sides of the fort seemed to be a sheet of flame. In five minutes all was dark and silent. The blacks had carried the works and a well credited camp report says that its garrison, over 200 in number, shared the fate of the garrison of Fort Pillow.
The town of Petersburg was in sight of our camp. There was fighting on each side of us and for a time we occupied the center of what seemed to be a general engagement. We were in line of battle at the breastworks but it passed off with only picket firing half a mile off in our front. The next day we were ordered to this post. This is were Gen. Fitzhugh Lee attacked Col. Wild darkeys four weeks ago and met with a disastrous repulse. The place was not half fortified at the time. The Rebs lost heavily in killed and wounded. Their dead are buried just outside of our works and the feet of some of them stick out of the ground. This I know for I seen them.
We were in line last Sunday to repel an attack on us here but it was only a scare. No enemy came. It would take a large force to capture us. The defenses are very strong and we have the aid of six gunboats in the river. The “Atlanta” is here. She looks like the picture of the “Merrimack” and is very formidable.
We have heard the sound of cannonading all afternoon up the river. It is rapid and heavy. We don’t know what it means but suppose it is near Petersburg.
Our regiment is not anxious to fight. It don’t “spoil for one,” but I believe it will stand square up to the work if it is necessary. We are not scared and have not been at anything we have seen or heard yet. It is getting too dark to write more.
Since writing the above we have been out on a foraging expedition to the mouth of the Chickahominy and cleaned out an old Rebel of property. We don’t show them much mercy in the way of taking property. This time we got a steamboat load of sheep, cattle, horses, furniture and 79 contrabands. When the darkeys saw us they danced and clapped their hands. The boat could not carry all that wanted to come.
The residence of John Tyler is only three miles from here and our boys have paid it several visits. It was full of valuable furniture and books. Some of the Salem Company have a private correspondence of George Pickens of South Carolina to John Tyler in 1860 and 1861 in relation to the secession of Virginia. They destroyed thousands of dollars worth of fine furniture which they could not carry away.
So far as I have seen of this part of Virginia, it is almost desolate. The fences are gone, not much stock, a great many houses burned and all of the men in the Rebel army. If the South everywhere is as destitute of men as where we have been it cannot raise a corporal’s guard outside of its present army.
From the steamboat captain I have just got the news of the defeat and failure on the part of Grant. His story is that Grant has lost good men and made no impression of Petersburg yet. I don’t believe the story for several reasons. If that had been so we should have seen more wounded men going to Fortress Monroe. Then we have men in our camp right from Petersburg and they give the lie to the story. You will know about it before I will or this reaches you.
I believe Vallandigham’s presence in Ohio will do good in the coming election. He will identify himself with the Chicago convention or help to split it up. He should be hung. It ought to have been done when he was sent through the lines. I suppose it wil1 be a hot time all through the present campaign, especial1y in Ohio. I’m sorry to hear of Wadsworth’s condition. I have so much I would like to write and so little time that I don’t know how to begin or close. The mail will soon leave and I will have to stop. Let me hear from you when convenient.
I. P. Farmer