Watching incoming shells burst & Petersburg burn from the union rifle pits

Date Written

July 29, 1864

History Referenced

Member of Series

Theodore Longwood was 21 years old when this was written.
The recipient, Rebecca Scott Longwood, was 61 when it was received.

Theodore Longwood died 12 years, 8 months, 1 day after writing this.
It was written 154 years, 11 months, 19 days ago.
It was a Friday.

Front of Petersburg, Virginia
July 29, 1864

Dear Parents,

No doubt you would like to hear from us again. We got a letter from you last evening—also one from Mary Ann. We was very glad to hear that all was well. We was glad to hear that Mary Ann and Frank had come out to pay you a visit. I wish we could have been there to have shared the pleasure with you.

I hope you have got your harvesting done ‘ere this. I know that you finish but it must be very hard for you with so little help. How it would please me to come and help you finish but I can’t at the present time for the harvest of our country will not admit. We have got a large harvest to reap. We are getting along fine with our work. If we should leave now I am afraid the Johnnies would receive the profits of all our labors. I hope it will not be long until we will have all of the tares of the union gathered together and destroyed that our harvest may be done and the union restored.

We had quite an illumination here last night about 12 o’clock—by part of the city of Petersburg being on fire. Some of our large 200 pound shells set it on fire. We could see the fire plain and hear the fire bells ringing. No doubt it caused great excitement. I was looking at the flames of the burning buildings. How very bad we would feel if the rebs was within one mile of Aurora and throwing 200 pound shells into the city—as we do Petersburg—The city is just on the western slope of a hill that hides the plain view of the city from us. We can see 4 very large steeples from our rifle pits.

We have got over a thousand men every day and night working on large forts and digging underground roads—they are called (cover roads). They are large trenches dug 8 ft. deep and 14 ft. wide to the rifle pits and forts—so that ammunition and troops can be taken to the rifle pits ad forts without being in any danger. We have a road dug from our rifle pits to the rear where our camp is. When we are relieved from the front it is over a half mile long. We now can go all the way—8 ft, under ground and out of danger. It takes a great deal of work to do all this. Our Brig. has to be in the front works three days, then are relieved by the 2nd Brig. while we go to the rear to rest, but we did not get much rest the last time we was back—for we had to work on the roads and forts every day. We are in the rifle pits now but we will be relieved tonight.

Lieut. Hall, Mort, and myself have got a bomb proof house made so we feel quite safe. Mortar firing has been quite brisk for two or three days from both sides. We can see our mortar shells burst right in the rebel breastworks. It makes the Johnnies run every way. They burst a good many in our works, but I have not seen anyone hurt yet.

We set in our works and amuse our selves by watching our shells setting on fire large houses in the rebel lines. When I was home I thought it would be awful to be so close to our enemy, under range of a thousand guns. I thought a person could not enjoy himself atall, but I find that it is all a mistake for we have a good deal of fun and pass away the time quite pleasantly. We all set and talk about home and about what we have seen until the hours pass away very fast. For the last 4 or 5 nights we have to we have to keep one third of a company up at a time and after three o’clock in the morning, all of the cos. Must be up with accoutrements on so as to be ready if the rebs was to attack us—We have to be on our guard for fear of being surprised. After daylight we can set in our rifle pits or be near them—On our right in front of the 9th Corps. They keep up a continued firing from their works.

It is fun to see the boys run to get into their bomb proof houses when the rebs throw mortar shells over at us. If we look right close we can see them coming. They are throwing them at us now while I am writing. Three of them has just bursted not more than 30 or 40 yards from our Co. but no one hurt—We have had a very nice rain a few days ago, which has made the weather quite cool and pleasant. We got our photo album and all the pictures that we lost the first day in the Wilderness. I think more of them now than I did before—because Ma and Pa, Ida and her room mates, and all that was in the Album was captured and went to Dixie and again recaptured. The rebel that got them was killed in one of the battles of the Wilderness.

I have nothing more of importance to write so I will stop scribbling for the present. Mort wrote to you a few days ago. We are both well and in good spirits.

I don’t expect that I will get to come home with the regiment. I see in the papers that Gov. Morten has been trying to get us home with the regt. But the Secretary of War is trying [to] act the rascal with us. If I don’t get home with the regt. I will try and get a easy place to stay in the rest of my time. It is only 40 days from today.

Did you ever get that package we sent to you about the first of this month. It had a razor and several articles in it. Please let us know in your next letter so no more this time.

From Dora Longwood

Please excuse pencil marks for I have not got my ink handy at present. Jo is well and doing fine. Tinker is captured.

Scans of Letter