Blackford at Yorktown

Johnston’s army arrived on the Virginia Peninsula and established a line at the Warwick River to block McClellan’s advance. Blackford and his men scrambled to adjust to the novelty of a continuous contact with the Federals.

On April 22nd Blackford wrote his parents from “Curtain to Redoubt No. ‘4’ near Yorktown, Va.”, first apologizing for his irregular correspondence.

I have no baggage whatsoever, having but what little I had in my hand-trunk some three weeks ago, of course therefore I am on the [illegible] for paper & envelopes, as well as for many of the other little conveniences. But my chief reason for my apparent neglect, that is for not writing as often as when in winter quarters is that I am very seldom in one position long enough to write, or dry enough when there to be able to handle paper. Ever since leaving Winter Qrs. I have been incessantly active, scarcely ever sleeping two nights in the same place; I am obliged to devote what little leisure I have to sleep, which is of prime necessity with me.

Nor were things exactly quiet there.

Ever since we have been in this position now more than two weeks the enemy has been throwing shell among us from his gunboats and from some land batteries, besides this his sharp shooters have annoyed us very much from a neighboring orchard. This latter became intolerable and one night about 10 days ago two regiments sallied out and drove the enemy from their position, and cut down the trees, returning with no loss and many blankets, haversacks, canteens &c. which the Yankees threw away in their flight. The next day t’was found that cutting the trees afforded them even better cover than before and the annoyance continued thro’ the day. The 24th Va. was therefore ordered to cut the trees to pieces the next night, which they executed gallantly, driving the enemy’s pickets at a double quick but unfortunately they had a captain badly wounded who personally engaged two Yankees who were asleep in a rifle pit and were behind the rest, pretending to be Confederates one of them put his rifle against the Capt’s heart & fired, mortally wounding him. I witnessed this from my post on the parapet of No. 4, being at the time in command of a battalion of our Regt. then on duty there. Just before dark in the same evening a feint attack was made just on our left in plain view by two regts. and a battery, our men advanced behind a line of skirmishers, who cowed the Yankee pickets and occupied a position favorable for the artillery which opened on the enemy with vigor.

The huge shells from the Yankee gunboats were terrifying but fortunately that deadly. His men, he wrote,

…. will not keep away from the cooking fires, where they are getting their dinners, in spite of the bombs which burst every two or three minutes about our work. It has been several days since they have injured any one, tho’ the escapes are wonderful. Those shells which come very near us almost invariably fail to burst. The screaming of the shell sent from the heavy guns of the gunboats is awful, we commence hearing it at the distance of a mile & a half, and by the time it reaches us the noise is indescribable. We are now posted immediately in [the] rear of the field where Cornwallis surrendered, the monument in honor of that event is now in the ground in front of us between our lines & those of the enemy, but plainly in sight.

Their living conditions were harsh as well.

A very cold wind generally accompanied by rain has been blowing incessantly since we have been on this Peninsula, and as we have no tents and but little firewood, our men suffer very much but there are no complaints—or at least none are made by my men tho’ we have but two small spiders and one camp kettle to the whole company. There is a detail cooking from daybreak until late at night. Of course the bread is execrable—I had rather have a good meal of wholesome food served as a gentleman’s dinner should be than anything else which promotes comfort. I am however very well satisfied with my bread & salt pork, tho’ I pine for some coffee in the morning. I am thankful that it is not sea biscuits which are my particular abomination.

Little Mac, meanwhile, continued his buildup and began to deploy his heavy siege guns.


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