In June 1864, the armies gathered at Petersburg, Virginia. For campaign or battle anniversaries, I enjoy finding primary sources or battle reports that I haven’t seen or explore before. Last night—while procrastinating on my current events and Civil War history writing—I started poking through the collection of letters housed in the archive Siege of Petersburg Online.
This letter, written June 15, 1864, caught my eye. The soldier—First Sergeant T. Jasper Dean—served in Company I of the New York Heavy Artillery, a unit that fought as infantry during at Petersburg. Dean details the maneuvers of the Federal II Corps toward Petersburg and wrote about crossing the James River.
While I believe it is important to discuss historical interpretation and memory and engage in conversation about “trending” history topics, I’ve also realized in the last few weeks that sometimes we need a little break. To go to a battlefield. To read an original letter by a “common soldier” or “forgotten” civilian. It can be a welcome reminder that the Civil War armies were comprised mostly of volunteers (or conscripts) who were someone’s son and brother…that reminder of the humanity and human struggles brought to the combat fields.
So without further commentary and with original spelling and grammar, here is T. Jasper Dean writing to his “dear friends.”
June 15th 1864
Near Wilcox Landing on the South side of James Riv
Since I wrote the last letter we have done some marching. We started from near Gains Farm on the eve of the 13th inst and marched all night until about 7 o clock AM of the 14th. we haulted about four hours for the train to pass then we started and marched all day and night until about 11 o clock PM. we laid down for the night and got into a drouse [drowse] and up we got to change position by the right flank which took about one hour before we got into position. then we laid down and had a tip top sleep. the Ground was our bed and the stars of heaven our covering but we slep as well as though we laid on gees feathers. I know I did not wake up until just before day light. this was about two miles from the river near a place called Chas City. We laid in at this place yesterday nearly all day or till about 3 o clock PM. We then started fir the River about two miles distant. we then after getting to Wilcox Landing Laid around until the head of the column got acrost in Boats. we took our turn as it cam and at 10 o clock PM we wer on the south side. we marched about one mile and stoped and laid down first Long enough to get to sleep. we wer then routed up and marched about two miles into a big Pine Forrest whar I am now writing. It is about 5 o clock in the Morn of the 15th how long we shall stop just at this place I am not able to say. we expect marching orders every minutes. we shall probably march until we come in contact with the Rebs in the direction of Richmond. this last move of ours is calculated a big thing. we have made a flank on the enemy. I expect to soon see hot time. Grant is bound to take Richmond this time as near as I can calculate. let it cost what it will. I wont undertake to tell whare we are bound for or next stopping place. I stand the marches tip top. I feel as well as common dont loos much flesh. I have been in my plase at the head of the Co I everry rod of Ground thay have travveled since we started from Bal one month ago to day. We havent had aney casualities to record since we started or I last wrote. Wm Osborn Gillis are present. Co I foots up on the Morning report Book as follows 3 commissioned officers present one absent wounded total 4. Sergts for duty 4 one absent wounded one absent sick one present sick total 7. Corps for duty 10 absent wounded one one daily duty collor guard one, Total 12. Privates for duty 48 in arrest one Present sick 6 enlisted men absent 49 and Total enlisted present 77 makeing an aggregate of 146 enlisted men four officer added makes 150 Total aggregate. I wish you would keep these letters if you get them for if I should ever live to see them again I would like to look them over perhaps. I have not recd a letter since from home since the one from Mother writen June 4th. I send these letters just as it hapens to you all and for all to read all of our Family. Seth Hall and twelve men just went to Brigade head Quarters after two days rashions so we are well provided for in the eatible line such as it is. I cant think of anething more to write that will interest you and I dont know as what I have writen will. I have not heard from the wounded since I wrote last. The weather is verry pleasant indeed quite warm days and cool nights. I think different from York State Climate. I dont know when I shall get a chance to send this letter off. The [?] was I work it is I write one when I have time and send it when I can. there is nothing regular about the mail nor there can be as long as we are changeing our Positions everry day or two. I must close for this time. Accept my best wishes all From Son & Brother the Soldier Boy
T J Dean
Accessed at Siege of Petersburg Online: June 15, 1864 – T. Jasper Dean.