Letter from Freeman, Eugene H.

Soldier: Freeman, Eugene H.
Allegiance: Union
Unit/Service Branch: th Engineers
Home State: Massachusetts
Date Written: Thursday, August 18th, 1864
Location: City Point
Correspondence Type: Letter
Subjects: Battlefield, Combat Description, Commanders, Comrades, Eastern Theater, Enemy, Warfare, Weapons
 

DEAR FATHER, We left Alexandria last Sunday and
came to City Point without stopping, arriving here at five
p. M. Monday ; went up the Appomattox and landed our
cattle in the evening. Lay there all night, and returned to
this place Tuesday morning ; have been here ever since.
There are a great many boats waiting here now. Last Saturday
night forty-six steamers loaded with troops went up
the river to Deep Bottom, landed the men, and returned on
Sunday. We are here -waiting, I suppose, to go after those
men, should it be necessary.

I think that there has been some severe fighting up there,
for five steamers, loaded with wounded, passed down by here
yesterday, and several the day before ; and all night before
last and yesterday we could hear the deep booming of very
heavy guns up the river, probably from the monitors and
gunboats. Last evening we had a most terrible thunder
storm, with violent gusts of wind, rain, and the most incessant
thunder and lightning of the season. It was, as it
were, a contest of Heaven's artillery against man's comparatively
feeble powers. During the evening it was calm and
still, raining a little at intervals : so quiet was it that I thought
man had become awed and cowed to silence by the terrible
powers of Heaven; but no, at about midnight we were
awakened from a sound sleep by a most terrific cannonading
in the direction of Petersburg. We turned out and went on
deck, not that the sound of heavy guns is a strange one by
any means, but because this was the heaviest firing that I
have heard from that direction yet ; it was a continual boom,
boom, boom, and a great many guns all going off together
made the uproar continuous and terrible. We could distinguish
our guns from the enemy's very distinctly, as ours
were pointed away from us, while theirs were pointed toward
us. Between two and three o'clock the firing slackened,
and this morning everything is most calm and beautiful.
We conjecture that a midnight attack was made from one
side or the other, and that the engagement was general, but
this is merely conjecture.

After breakfast. The ball has opened again, and the
noisy voices of the loud-mouthed cannon can be heard up
the river and in front of Petersburg. The day is going to
be intensely hot, the thermometer being at ninety-eight now (
time half past six A. M.), and I reckon the poor artillerists
must suffer almost as much from the heat as from the
enemy's shot and shell.

We lay within a few rods of where the great explosion
ook place ; one of the most terrible explosions that ever
happened, I suppose. You, of course, have read in the
papers all about it. I wish I could describe how it looks
even now ; the hundreds of tons of unexploded shell, shot,
and ammunition of all kinds, that have been picked up since
the accident ; and the thousands of boxes, and barrels, etc.,
filled with every conceivable article, belonging to a great
military depot; the torn, twisted, and broken muskets,
rifles, pistols, and heaps of all kind of subsistence stores. I
saw yesterday, when we made a thorough exploration of the
ruins, in one pile more than twenty tons of soap, candles,
and flour which the intense heat of the sun had melted into
one immense mass of dough. The buildings on the bluff
are blown to atoms, so is a large part of the government
store-houses, and the whole of the quartermaster's buildings.
The trees on the bluff were nearly stripped of their foliage
and branches by the storm of iron and leaden hail ; and
suspended from many of the limbs were the intestines and
mangled limbs of human beings, who a few seconds before
had been breathing, living men, strong in their health and
pride ; but this availed them nothing at such a time. The
sight after the explosion must have been heart-rending in
the extreme.

I am acquainted with one of the quartermaster's clerks.
He sat near a window on the opposite side of the building
from the water, when it happened ; he says he remembers
nothing from the time that he first heard the noise until he
picked himself up amidst a pile of rubbish on the bluff, more
than 200 feet from where he was writing. He was not
injured seriously, but his dog, which lay under his chair, was
blown to atoms, as was the whole building ; not a sign of a
building remaining except a mass of broken splinters. The
wharf for 150 feet was entirely blown away, not a plank
nor a pile remaining. The barges have gone, no one
knows where. Fifty-nine persons are known to have been
killed, and undoubtedly there are many more that are unknown.
Frank and I picked up something more than a hundred
pounds of bullets in less than an hour yesterday ; I also took
a lot of pieces of broken shells, gun locks, broken baronets,
etc., which I shall improve the earliest opportunity of sending
home.

We also found some whole percussion shells, but after
debating the question, concluded we would leave them
overboard, rather than run the risk of being ourselves blown
up by them. One of the guards on the wharf said that five
barrels of bullets were swept up on what remains of the
wharf, so you can judge whether they fell thick or not. And
here, after a week has elapsed, and they have picked up
everything they considered valuable, and curiosity hunters
have helped themselves to all they wanted, we picked up
over 100 pounds of bullets, and might have loaded our boat
with pieces of shell, etc. I wanted some of the broken and
twisted guns, but they would not let me have them.
While we were on the wharf yesterday the steamer Greyhound
came in and landed Generals Meade and Butler ; I
stood within three feet of them when they landed. Meade
I never saw before. I believe I told you that I had seen
General Grant.

I am pretty well, but am troubled somewhat with the old
complaint again.

Your affectionate son, EUGENE.

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