Bad Nights & Bad Days Too ~ June 1864~17th to 20th

Bad Nights & Bad Days Too ~ Walt Whitman

Whitman feels such anguish that he is close to going home for rest and recuperation. On the battlefields soldiers have bad nights and days: new atrocities against black Union soldiers, seeing friends wounded or killed, suffering sickness, hard marching, bitter fighting, bad weather. Good news comes to the Union with the sinking of the C. S. S. Alabama off the coast of France.

battle between the Alabama and the Kersage

battle between the Alabama and the Kersage

June 17– Friday– Washington, D. C.– “This place & the hospitals seem to have got the better of me. I do not feel so badly this forenoon but I have bad nights & bad days too, some of the spells are pretty bad– still I am up some & around every day– the doctors have told me for a fortnight I must leave, that I need an entire change of air, &c. I think I shall come home for a short time, & pretty soon. I will try it two or three days yet, though, & if I find my illness goes over, I will stay here yet awhile.” ~ Letter from Walt Whitman to his mother Louisa.

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

June 17– Friday– Memphis, Tennessee– “From statements that have been made to me by colored soldiers who were eye-witnesses, it would seem that the massacre of Fort Pillow had been reproduced at the late affair at Brice’s Cross-Roads. . . . If true and not disavowed they must lead to consequences hereafter fearful to contemplate. . . . If it is contemplated by the Confederate Government to murder all colored troops that may by the chance of war fall into their hands, as was the case at Fort Pillow, it is but fair that it should be freely and frankly avowed. Within the last six weeks I have on two occasions sent colored troops into the field from this point. In the expectation that the Confederate Government would disavow the action of the commanding general at the Fort Pillow massacre I have forborne to issue any instructions to the colored troops as to the course they should pursue toward Confederate soldiers that might fall into their hands; but seeing no disavowal on the part of the Confederate Government, but on the contrary laudations from the entire Southern press of the perpetrators of the massacre, I may safely presume that indiscriminate slaughter is to be the fate of colored troops that fall into your hands; but I am not willing to leave a matter of such grave import and involving consequences so fearful to inference, and I have therefore thought it proper to address you this, believing that you will be able to indicate the policy that the Confederate Government intends to pursue hereafter on this question. . . . Up to this time no troops have fought more gallantly and none have conducted themselves with greater propriety. They have fully vindicated their right (so long denied) to be treated as men. . . . For the government of the colored troops under my command I would thank you to inform me, with as little delay as possible, if it is your intention or the intention of the Confederate Government to murder colored soldiers that may fall into your hands, or treat them as prisoners of war and subject to be exchanged as other prisoners.” ~ Letter from Union General Cadwaller Colden Washburn to Confederate General Stephen Dill Lee.


June 17– Friday– near Marietta, Georgia– “We advanced two miles day before yesterday, fighting our way; our brigade was in reserve and, towards evening, for about half an hour, was subjected to the sharpest artillery fire that I have experienced since Gettysburg. The noise of whizzing and exploding of shells, especially in the woods, is terrific, but compared to infantry its destructiveness is slight. I had two men wounded. The regiment having taken position near the enemy’s works, our troops put up breastworks; yesterday as the lines were pretty close together, there was a good deal of firing between the pickets and our artillery threw shells, but the dense woods in front prevented an accurate aim. . . . At daylight this morning, our pickets reported the rebels gone. I have just been over to the position they occupied; it is very strongly fortified. I conjecture that some movement upon the enemy’s right flank caused the evacuation. A portion of our army seems to be following up and we will doubtless move soon.” ~ Letter from Union officer Fredrick C. Winkler to his wife.

June 18– Saturday– outside Petersburg, Virginia– “We arrived here day before yesterday and found the fight going on and it has been kept up ever since (sometimes very sharp and then again it dies away) ever since we arrived here. So far the fighting along the front of our Corps has been altogether in our favor and we have been steadily driving the rebs ever since we came here, and now as I write there is a very savage fight going on in our front, and I think by the firing that our boys are pushing the enemy back and unless the rebs can make a firmer stand than they have made here yet it will not be long before the long coveted City of Petersburg will be in our possession. I notice by the papers that our Corps is very little spoken of, but for all that they have done some splendid fighting, although we seem to be, rather outsiders here in the Army of the Potomac.” ~ Letter from Union soldier George Whitman to his mother Louisa.


June 18– Saturday– Richmond, Virginia– “No blessing from heaven ever came more opportunely than the abundant crop of pure, delicious ice, which was gathered last winter by the Government, and stored in the Government ice-houses for the use of the hospitals the present sultry summer. As we urged the gathering of a large supply then, events have proved that the bulk of it will be needed in the alleviating of the sufferings of the many thousand wounded in the hospitals in Richmond and elsewhere. Hundreds of valuable lives have been saved to the cause and country, that otherwise would have been lost. . . . The hospitals are now abundantly supplied, and the surgeons inform us that the absence of gangrene and other malignant forms of disease accompanying wounds, is attributable to the plentiful application of ice. The average number of deaths among the same number of wounded is something over fifty per cent less this season than it was in the summer of 1862.” ~ Richmond Examiner.

June 18– Saturday– Henrico County, Virginia– “I am sorry to say to you that I am sick at this time, and have been for several days. On 9th I was taken with diarrhea, and it soon ran into bloody flux which made me very weak and almost past traveling. I staid on duty till 13th when we had orders to move. I reported to the Doctor, and he put me in an ambulance and carried me till we stopped that evening, which was not far from the old battle field of Frazier’s Farm and Malvern Hill. I staid there at the Brigade Hospital in the woods till 16th when I was sent in our ambulance to this place, with many others that were sick. I am better now. My operations are not bloody now, and by getting some good sleep and rest I hope to recover soon and return to the field, though I am quite weak. This is a very good Hospital. I get plenty to eat for a sick man at least.” ~ Letter from Confederate soldier Marion Hill Fitzpatrick to his wife Amanda.

 June 19– Sunday– near Petersburg, Virginia– “I heard a thud and saw Lieutenant Smith falling. I caught him in my arms and called for a stretcher. He was shot through the back, the bullet, penetrating his lung. I sent him to the hospital and we fear he will die. He is a fine fellow and a brave man and is to me like my own brother. I pray God that his life may be spared. . . . A division of colored soldiers charged . . . but were driven back. They fought well and left many dead on the field. . . . yesterday’s work convinced me that they will fight. So Hurrah for the colored troops.” ~ Diary of Elisha Hunt Rhodes.


June 19– Sunday– near Berryville, Virginia– “I wrote you a few days ago from near Leesburg – after we had crossed back to Virginia– Sunday we came on across the Blue Ridge – there was not flour enough in Loudoun County to supply our wants, but Clarke & Jefferson have an abundance in them – our commissary having 100000 bushels of wheat at his command. The Yankee cavalry found a portion of our train exposed to attack as we came across the Blue Ridge & they fell on it & captured & destroyed some 30 or 40 wagons but our infantry got up & punished them, capturing in turn a piece of artillery from the Yankees – the wagons captured all belonged to the cavalry . . . . I am riding over this county mapping it – am very busy & tired at night – so do excuse this. Love & kisses & blessings for you all. Write often.” ~ Letter from Confederate officer Jedediah Hotchkiss to his wife Sara.

June 19– Sunday– near Marietta, Georgia– “I have been in the rain day and night and been exposed and treated worse than any dumb brute ought to be, but I most consider it is in war time. Frances, I have no good news to write. The fight is still going on. It gets worse every day. They fought very hard on our left yesterday, killed and wounded [a] great many of our men. The enemy loss is unknown. This war is a terrible one. It seems to me that [it] is carried on to slaughter up the poor class of people and get them out of the way. I don’t call it fights. I call it a perfect slaughter.” ~ Letter from a Confederate soldier to his sweetheart.

June 19– Sunday– Camden County, Georgia– “After so long a time they send to us from Charleston that we cannot leave here unless we run the blockade. So we have permission to remain here until the war closes. We are getting very destitute of clothing, but it is useless to fear for the future. We may suffer, but many are already suffering. It is doubtless better for us to remain here at present under trying circumstances. We will hope for the best. Bailey returned last week on furlough to Kate’s great happiness. A seven days rain has kept us from going over.” ~ Diary of Julia Johnson Fisher.

June 19– Sunday– Off the coast of Cherbourg, France–During a battle in international waters, the U S. S. Kearsage sinks the C. S. S. Alabama. However, an English yacht, Deerhound, rescues the captain of the Alabama, causing the U S Minister Charles Francis Adams to file a protest with Her Majesty’s Government. A large crowd on the shore watches the hour long battle.

the Alabama sinking

the Alabama sinking

June 20– Monday– New York City– Outside Petersburg, Virginia, “we did . . . storm a difficult line of fieldworks, capturing prisoners, and sixteen guns [canon]. Ethiopia [black soldiers] . . . took six of the sixteen and came up to the scratch in the best style.” ~ Diary of George Templeton Strong.

June 20– Monday– Washington, D.C.– “We get no good army news from Petersburg. Our troops have suffered much and accomplished but little, so far as I can learn. But there is disinclination to communicate army intelligence, as usual. Were the news favorable, it would be otherwise. The President in his intense anxiety has made up his mind to visit General Grant at his headquarters, and left this p.m. at five. Mr. Fox has gone with him, and not un-likely favored and encouraged the President in this step, which I do not approve. It has been my policy to discourage these Presidential excursions. Some of the Cabinet favored them. Stanton and Chase, I think, have given them countenance heretofore. He can do no good. It can hardly be otherwise than harmful, even if no accident befalls him. Better for him and the country that he should remain at his post here. It would be advantageous if he remained away from the War Department and required his Cabinet to come to him.” ~ Diary of Gideon Welles.

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