Letter from Atkins, Alfred

Soldier: Atkins, Alfred
Allegiance: Union
Unit/Service Branch: 98th Infantry
Home State: New York
Date Written: Tuesday, May 17th, 1864
Location: Camp 98th N.Y. Vols.
Correspondence Type: Letter
Subjects: Battlefield, Combat Description, Commanders, Comrades, Eastern Theater, Enemy, Family, Warfare

Dear Sister,

Have been again within sight of Richmond and have again skedaddled away from it. After our Petersburg tramp and fight we rested one day and then started again. This time we went more to the right, and we soon made up our minds that we were bound for Richmond. This was Thursday morning, and we were moving around for the best position, & c., all day Friday and Saturday. Sunday we appeared to have found the place we wanted, for we went to work and put up a line of breastworks of logs and made ourselves as secure as possible. We had been under fire both Friday and Saturday, and had lost about forty men in the two days, but it was mostly men who were out skirmishing.

Sunday night I was sent out with my company on picket. Our line was within two hundred rods of the rebel fort, and our duty was to keep up a fire on them so they could not load their cannon. We had nothing to do in the night time but watch and give alarm; everything was quiet until about two o’clock, when they commenced a heavy fire on us. It was so foggy we could not see ten rods, and so I would not let my men fire, but told them to lay low while this was going on. They attacked our right and turned it, making a heavy fight for about half an hour.

After this they were quiet until about four, when I heard them giving their charging yell right in front of my post, and saw the Eighth Maine pickets, who were on my right, commence to run. I had hard work to keep my men in their places but succeeded, and let the rebs come up until we saw them. They thought we were all gone I guess, for they halted their line and commenced dressing it up. While they were doing this I got a good sight at them, and as they were not more than twenty rods off I told the boys to give them a volley, which they did with a good aim, and I think there were a few rebs who did not dress up to their places.

We fired three volleys, when they got so close we could almost touch them with our guns, and as I had only thirty men and they had a regiment, I thought it was time to dig out, which I did in just about as quick time as ever I made. I wouldn’t have given a snap of my finger for my chance of life or liberty just then, or that of ten of my men, for we were fired on by the rebels from one way and from two of our own regiments from the other. I suppose I staid a little too long on my post for real prudence, but I wasn’t going to run from the scoundrels till I had to. We had to go about two hundred yards through a slash (where the trees have been cut down to make an obstruction) before we got to our own forces, and such tumbling and scrambling you never saw in your life. The bullets whistling round our ears made us work lively - when I got over our breastworks I had only eight men with me, these I put right in the ranks of the 148th New York, and we staid with them and fought for about an hour when we started to find our own regiment, before we got far we fell in with the 21st Connecticut, and as they were in a pretty tight spot we thought we would help them all we could.

By this time I had collected about twenty men, so we fought with them about two hours in one of the warmest places I was ever in. They shelled around us most unmercifully, and we had no chance to pay them, for they were in the woods and we couldn’t see them, they whipped us here; and as the 21st commenced to run I thought that my company had done their share of fighting and so I led them to the rear out of range of the fight, and put them to work picking up stragglers; all this time the regiment had not been idle, by all accounts they fought well although they had to back down as did all our forces. I joined the regiment about 2 P.M., much to the surprise of everyone as they said they had no idea I would ever get out from where I was on picket.

Our loss I suppose will be about a hundred. I have ten wounded and missing. While on picket I took six prisoners, one major and five privates, it was so foggy they walked right into my post without seeing it. But I must stop now as I feel rather tired, yet, as after all our fighting we marched away back to our camp reaching here about eight o’clock last night having been under arms for one hundred and forty hours without any rest, in that time I don’t suppose I slept ten hours. I don’t know what the movement meant or anything about it, but I know we have all fallen back. The forts were on Drewry’s Bluff, and I expect that will be the name of the battle.

Respectfully Yours,
Alfred Atkins
Capt., 98th N.Y. Vols.