Baptists and the American Civil War: June 23, 1864


The trenches around Petersburg, late 1864

The Siege of Petersburg continues. Today in the siege the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road comes to an inconclusive end. In this three day battle, Union forces sought to seize the Weldon Railroad, a Confederate supply route. Gaining temporary control of the railroad, they were driven back by Confederate forces. Nonetheless, the Federals have managed to destroy a portion of the railroad while extending the siege lines further west.

Fighting in the trenches is Thomas C. Cheney, soldier in the First New Hampshire Voluntary Light Battery and a member of the First Free Baptist Church Manchester, New Hampshire. Today, his unit south of Petersburg experiencing a lull in the action, Cheney writes a letter to his brother-in-law, David. In addition to talking about family, Cheney’s letter offers hints that the Army of the Potomac is well-supplied for the long haul, though he does voice some criticism of Grant. In addition, the soldier’s belief that Union forces control the Weldon Railroad does not reflect the final news from the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road.

4 Miles South of Petersburg
Va. June 23d 1864

Dear Brother

Your kind letter of the 14th was rec. the 20th and with much pleasure. No I had not began to think that you were not going to write to me again, though I was very anxious to hear from you as the last time I heard from you was that Emilys health was very poor and yours not much better. I am happy to hear that you both are improving and trust you both will soon be entirly well. I am fearful that you have to work to hard being left nearly alone so in the Store, be careful about that. I think it would do you and Emily both good if you could go up to the Lake and spend Six or Eight weeks there. I am happy to hear that Laura likes so well at Lake Village and that Alfred has so good run of work, it is a business little place, and I should think a steady Man Might do well there. I have not seen Orison yet but have heard from him and have seen some of his Reg. but he did not hapen to be with the Co, that I see, he was well, as to how I have fared since this Campaign commenced I hardly know not hardly what to tell, it is impossible for me to give you at this time in writing a history of my experiance. I have faredĀ  very well as far as Rations are cocerned. I never went on a Campaign when we were as well Supplied with Rations as we are on this one, and rec. as many varietys as we do now. Yestarday we drew Beanes; Pork; Potatoes; and Apples but the the Campaign has been a rough one. We have Marched so Much and fought so many Battles and been at it so long, hard on to two Months now, the 3d of next Month, our Battery has been engagned in 6 or 7 different Battles during this Campaign. I have been in all the Battery has, and have seen some very hard fighting but through the Providence of God have escaped thus far and trust I may to the end. it is a mistake that Grant does not direct the Army of the Potomac any more than he does the Army of Sherman or any other Army. Grant directs Sherman and other Gens to move on and Capture such and such Places and leavesĀ  it to the Gens. Commanding those Armys to drect the moves of those Armeys and take those places in their own way, but Grant Personaly is with the Armey of the Potomac is in its Battle issues his orders and is the Master Spitet of all its Moves. Time and again have I seen him rideing along our lines, and at Spotsylvania he established his head Quarters during one of those days fight close to where our Battery had been in Position for 2 days. if Mead had directed the movements of this Army alone I think we should of been back across the Rapidan ere this. I am unable to tell you the Situation of things here to day you will get it in the Papers sooner than I shall know. We change Positions so much it is impossible to keep track. I hear that we are so near the Richmond and Weldon R Road that we controll it. There was very heavey Cannonadeing and Musketry on our Right yestarday and last Nigh in the Direction of Petersburg and sounded as though it was beyond the City. I have not yet heard the result. my health is first rate and Spirets good. my love to Emily tell her to write with you. my respects to Mr. GilchristWrite again soon

from your Affectionate Brother T C Cheney

Sources: Siege of Petersburg (link); Thomas Carleton Cheney, 1831-1900 Papers, University of New Hampshire (link); Thomas C. Cheney letter to David S. Gilchrest, June 23, 1864 (link); NPS Historical Handbook: Petersburg, including image (link)