Holland Letter 2

Near Petersburg, Virginia

July 24, 1864

Dear Messenger:

It has been sometime since I had an opportunity to address you. I thought that I should like to communicate through your columns to the friends of the soldiers in Co. C. 5th U. S.C.T., to which I belong. I will commence by stating as I did in my previous communication that Co. C, is principally composed of men from Athens and Ross Counties, and have been in active service since entering the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, liberating the slaves of both loyal and disloyal masters, and likewise confiscating other property of those who have neglected to take the oath of allegiance to the Government of the United States. Never have we seen a day, however disagreeable the weather might be, that we would not go to the assistance of our brothers in bondage, and sever the chain that bound them. While, I mention that we are engaged in this glorious work, I must not neglect to say that we did not pass the guerillas who lurk in swamps and thickets unmolested. As it is not the style of Black Warriors to allow themselves to be trifled with, you may understand that we disposed of them according to the rules for the disposition of such warriors.

We have been successful in achieving the object we aimed at. We have also undergone severe marches to Bottom Bridge, within twelve miles of the Confederate Capitol. On some of those marches it rained incessantly, making it very fatigueing. I have also seen men sleep, while marching. If I should say that I have been guilty of the same art myself it would not be less than truth. It seemed like imposing on green troops, but the boys bore it admirably with great patience and endurance. Near the latter part of April, we were ordered to Fort Monroe to organize into the 3d division of the 18th Army Corps, commanded by Brigadier Gen. [Edward Ward] Hinks. While at Fort Monroe were reviewed by Maj. Gen. [Benjamin Franklin] Butler, and was classed among the best grade of white troops. All passed off very nicely, until about the 4th day of May, when an order came to break camp, and be ready at moments warning by transports, which we quietly did in good order, as all good soldiers do. We were then awaiting the orders of the Adjutant to fall in. The Adjutant with a loud voice sang out fall in fifth; the companies were formed and moved out on the parade ground and was formed in line of battle under supervision of the Adjutant. We moved off by the right flank to the transports and embarked. shoved in the bay a short distance from the fort, and cast anchor for the night to wait for the fleet to gather. About daybreak on the following morning all was ready, and we set sail for the James River, the fleet of gunboats taking the advance. Immediately in rear were the boats of General Butler and Hinks followed by the fifth U.S.C.T. Many things attracted our attention along the banks of the James, too numerous to mention. One I might mention particularly, was the ruins of Jamestown, the spot where the curse of slavery was first introduced into the United States. A serpent that has inserted his poisonous fangs into the body of this government, causing it to wither in its bloom. Slowly we worked our way up the winding James, until within sight of the City Point celebrated for being the Department where the exchange of prisoners is made. As we neared the shore at that point Co. C was ordered to take the advance as soon as we landed. Up the hill we marched to where the rebel flag was stationed. Down with it cried the boys, and in a moment more the flag of the glorious free could be seen floating in the breeze. The company banners was the first company flag that waved over the rebel city. Forty prisoners were captured at this place by the provost guard of the division. One platoon of our company was deployed as skirmishers and followed a short distance the retreating foe that escaped.

On the following day we began throwing up fortifications around the city, in less than sixteen days we had completed the works and was ready for some new adventure. The regiment then moved to Point of Rocks and on the 9th of June a detachment of the 1st, 5th, 6th [U.S.C.T.] under Gen. [Quincy A.] Gilmore made a demonstration against Petersburg, Va., we were brought into line of battle, under a most galling fire of the enemies guns, the 1st U.S.C.T. took the right, the 6th the left, and our detachment supported the artillery, in this order we advanced, while Gen. [August V.] Kautz with a superior force of cavalry made a flank movement and broke the enemies left reaching the town. Had he been supported by General Gilmore the town would have been ours on that day, with slight loss of life. But did he do it? No. He withdrew without a fight, putting the enemy on his guard and consequently allowing him to prepare for an emergency. Suffice to say that we withdrew and fell back to Point of Rocks. All passed off very quietly until the 14th, when we were summoned to make a second demonstration against the rebel city under command of Maj. Gen. [William F.] Smith. In a few moments we were out and on the road, we crossed the Appomattox shortly after nightfall, and lay down to rest our weary limbs. On the following morning about daybreak, we dispatched a hardy breakfast of hardtack and coffee. Orders were given then to fall in, of course we made no delay knowing duty to be before everything else, a moment before and the column was off. About sunrise our advance came in contact with the rebel pickets who discharging the contents of their pieces into our ranks, fled back to their main force. Skirmishers were then thrown out in front of the different regiments. Companies C and B were deployed in front of the 5th, other skirmishers in front of their respective regiments, forming a skirmish line in front of the line of battle. We moved forward slowly making our way clear and open, we advanced about a mile in this manner till in sight of the first line of earthworks. We were then in the open field, halted, where we kept up a brisk fire on the skirmish line until the regiments could get through the swamps and form in order again. All this while the enemy poured a galling fire of musketry, grape and canister into ranks slaying many. The order was given to forward the skirmish line one hundred paces, this being done we halted, keeping up our fire along the line. One thing that I must mention which attracted the attention of the whole division. It was that brave and daring but strange personage that rides the white charger. We could see him plainly riding up and down the rebel lines, could hear him shouting from the top of his voice to stand, that they had only niggers to contend with. This peculiar personage seems possessed with supernatural talent. He would sometimes ride his horse with almost lightning speed, up and down his lines amid the most terrific fire of shot and shell. But when the command was given to us, "Charge bayonets! Forward double quick!" the black column rushed forward, raising the battle yell, and in a few moments more we mounted the rebel parapets. And to our great surprise, we found that the boasted Southern chivalry had fled. They could not see the nigger part as the man on the white horse presented it. We captured here one gun and caisson. Column moved out to the left in front of the second line of fortifications while the white troops took the right. We moved off in line of battle, took a position right in range of the enemies guns, in which position we remained six hours exposed to an enfilading fire of shot and shell. Just at nightfall after the placing of our guns had been effected, we were ordered to charge a second fort which we did with as much success as the first. It is useless for me to attempt a description of that evening cannonading. I have never heard anything to equal it before or since for a while whole batteries discharge their contents into the rebel ranks at once, the result was complete success.

Providence seemed to have favored us on that occasion for the casualties of Co. C, were very few only two killed and nine wounded....

Many more of the boys in the company were struck or scratched by spent and glancing balls, but not seriously hurt.... These were brave boys, and the company lament their misfortune and sympathize with the bereaved wives and friends of the deceased....

M. M. Holland

O.S., Co. C. 5th U.S.C.T.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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