June 5, 1864
Talk who will of the seed of noble blood having run out, that we have degenerated from the spirit & hardihood of our ancestors, I have just read a letter which gives them all the lie. It is from Captain Skinner to his sister, my neice Mrs Jones. It is dated “Front line of Entrenchments Near Old Church, May 31st.” He says in it —
Pattie we have had a dreadful time & a hard time & all is not yet over but I hope the worst is passed. Grant has been taught such a severe lesson by Lee & his ragged rebels that he is the most cautious man to be found. Battle has been offered him a half a dozen times since leaving Spottsylvania C H but he has not accepted. This army is in fine condition & overflowing spirits, notwithstanding that we have lost heavily & suffered untold hardships. Until the 29th we lived on 4 crackers & a ¼ lb of meat per day, but now our rations have been doubled & all are jubilant, tho before that happy event there was not a murmur to be heard & yet men in my company were whole days at a time without a morsel. We are all dirty & if you will pardon the expression — Lousy, having been 25 days without a change of clothing. During this time we have marched, counter-marched, fought, etc., without intermission. We have passed but three nights since May the 4th that we have not been in line of battle, required to keep on not only all our clothing but our accoutrements. We are worn & dirty but a[re] cheerful & confidant relying on our God for the Victory. Don’t be distressed. I am perfectly contented and if I can hear from you & our mother occasionally, I am really happy. Don’t imagine that because a battle is impending that we are long faced & miserable. On the contrary we are cheerful, in a word we are all right! I fear you suffer more than I. Our poor old company (yours & mine) has suffered greatly. We were in the engagements of the 5th, 6th, 10th, 12th, & 23d. I had but thirty men to carry into action in the begining. Of these I lost 4 killed & 18 wounded, one of the latter mortally. . . . A few who were wounded on the 5th have returned and are ready to try it again. . . . By the mercy of God I escaped. I firmly beleive that I will pass through unharmed. . . . If you love me, dont be troubled but trust all to God & pray for your dear brother Ben.
How can such men ever be conquered? The manly & bold spirit, the cheerful endurance of hardship, the firm reliance upon God that breathes in every line can be never be crushed & the tender solicitude he shows for her anxiety goes straight to the heart, so bold, so frank, so hearty & so unselfish. Elsewhere he speaks in most simple earnest tones of his faith & trust in Gen Lee. He closes his letter saying that they “are ordered to march he knows not where,” but Gen Lee has ordered it, & whatever he orders is right. On the 1st “Marse Robert” telegraphs to the Sec of War, “There has been skirmishing along the lines today” & after some particulars says “A force of infantry is reported to have arrived at Tunstal’s Station from the White House. . . . They state that they belong to Butler’s forces.” If so, & I scarce beleive it a ruse de guerre, Butler has gone by water around the Peninsula in stead of crossing through the Swamps of Chickahominy made famous by McClellan’s retreat. All of his forces have not, however, left Bermuda Hundred, as we have an official telegram from Beauregard saying that he had “captured his rifle pits near Ware Bottom Church,” dated June 2d. The details of the skirmishing of Lee’s army are all favourable to us. I use the word skirmishing but it does not express what really took place. In comparison to the grand attack it is a skirmish but whole army corps are engaged on both sides. For instance, about six wednesday night the enemy made another desperate attack on our right. They massed their forces in six lines & hurled them on our position with great rapidity. Our men no sooner recovered from the shock than they assailed them in turn & drove them back. . . . During the engagement 4 companies of a Wisconsin Regt volunteerd to take a battery by assault. When they arrived within 200 yds of the Battery it opened upon them. . . . When within 50 yds from our breastworks in front of the Battery, our infantry opened a galling fire upon them which mingled with that of the Battery annihilated the whole Battalion — not one was seen to escape. . . .
Two car loads of wounded were sent to Richmond & they reported that not a single man of the four companies got back! That is “skirmishing” with a vengeance. We take many prisoners. For instance, in this account alone, Ewell flanks them on the Mechanicsville pike & takes 500, Wilcox’s skirmishers bring in 100, Hampton at Ashland 75 & 300 horses. We rush on them “whilst at dinner, capture many prisoners, & all the dinner,” which to men living on ¼ lb of meat & 4 crackers a day must have been the most welcome of the two! Ewell took three lines of breastworks with but slight loss to himself, but amongst the killed is the brave Gen Doles of Geo. Thus it goes. Time fails me to tell you all. I preserve in my repertory 2 letters from an Englishman, correspondant of the London Herald, giving an account of the battles of the Wilderness & Spotsylvania C H. They stir the blood like the sound of a trumpet & are said by those who ought to know that they are as true in detail as they are spirited & graphic in description. Lee’s army now lies in Hanover county covering Richmond. “Cold Harbour,” “Atlee’s,” “Hanover Old Church,” “Storr’s Farm,” “Ashland,” names familiar as household words two years since in McClellan’s advance, are now all occupied by our forces. Breckenridge has joined Lee & Whiting is ordered there, & speaking of Whiting, the rumour of which Mr Hill told us respecting himself & Martin we are told on newspaper authority is false. He, it seems, is still in command as is also Gen James Martin. As for Barton, Gen Robt Ransom says he has suspended him — but magnanimously “gives him the benefit of an investigation.” As to the “coup de theatre” about breaking his sword on the field, we hear nothing of it, but from that lying jade Rumour who at the same time deposes Martin & Whiting — & do not beleive that Beauregard ordered any such thing. To be suspended by that foul mouthed, ill governed tempered man Robert Ransom jr is prima facie no disgrace. Barton had he his deserts is doubtless the better man & the better soldier of the two.
From Gen Johnston we hear officially under date of June 1st, “This army is in a healthy condition. In partial engagements it has had great advantage & the sum of all the combats amounts to a battle.” Signed J E Johnston. He also reports reinforcements from the 17 army corps to be on their way to reinforce Gen Sherman — bad news for us, for I fear we are already out numbered there, but the victory is not always to the strong.
Source: Edmondston, Catherine Ann Devereux, 1823-1875, Journal of a Secesh Lady: The Diary of Catherine Ann Devereux Edmondston 1860-1866. Crabtree, Beth G and Patton, James W., (Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 1979).http://nc-historical-publications.stores.yahoo.net/478.html