Ride Captain Ride
As we continue our journey, let me tell you, the purpose of this trip was to walk on the same ground that the men of the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry walked. This is our third ride and we’re going to visit as many of the battlefields as these men walked to.
The Overland Campaign of 1864 starts with a second visit by the opposing armies to the Wilderness area. While the men are fighting they stumbled upon the skeletons of men who died there two years earlier. What a gruesome sight this must have been for the conditioned soldiers let alone the fresh fish, new, raw recruits. The men of the 148th weren’t at the first Wilderness Campaign. They didn’t start their term of enlistment until August of 1862. When they did finally get to see the war first hand, they were truly tested by the elements and the tempest of battle. Many a man wouldn’t survive the winter and battles such as Fredericksburg wouldn’t do them any favors as well, and this was only the beginning of the next three years. Over the course of these three years over 1,400 men would pass through their ranks. Till the war’s end only about three hundred remained to march by during the Grand Review in Washington D.C. in June of 1865.
The last full day of this year’s battlefield hopping tour journey was when we arrived in the town of Petersburg, Virginia. We visited the town cemetery, where we arrived in time to be part of a ceremony where these modern day rebels were celebrating their founding of their “Decoration Day.” However misguided it may have been from our point of view, they celebrated the time when their community leaders and mostly their women folk mourned the passing of their soldier boys. We didn’t stay. I wish we’d had more time, because I do appreciate being witness to other ceremonies. We mounted up and rode to the Petersburg National Battlefield. The entrance was about a mile and a half away. We stopped at the Eastern Front Visitors Center, then proceeded to Confederate Battery “8” later renamed “Fort Friend” by U.S. Colored Troops after they attacked and captured it in March of 1865. From here the next to fall was Battery “9”, Fort Stedman, Haskell, Morton. One by one they fell. All totaled General Grant’s first attempt to capture Petersburg cost him nearly 10,000 men, ensuing battles another 10,000 and in the final push at the battle known as the Crater 4,000 more would become casualties. This fort was somewhat stubborn. Pennsylvania miners purposed digging a 500 foot tunnel and loading it with 1,200 pound of black powder. This venture took nearly a month to dig. The Confederates suspecting something like this was being done, started to dig their own shaft in hope of intercepting the Union tunnel. They missed each other by mere feet. When the powder was exploded the Federal troops rushed into the opening only to find NO way of escape. A one sided hole had been blown into the fort. The Confederates, those who survived the blast; lined the rim of the Crater and began firing down into the pit with merciless musketry, some at near pointblank distance. The Federal assault had failed miserably with the loss of nearly 4,000 men. The Southerners lost 1,500 mostly from the explosion. The war would continue for another few weeks.
Before we left the site of the Crater, we saw how peaceful this battlefield has become. We saw three wild turkeys up close and six very nice buck traveling together, most sporting “Wow” rakes. It was late when we left the park and rode toward Waynesboro, Virginia where we got a room for the night.
The next morning we rose and rode into town to fill-up our machines, before entering the Shenandoah National State Park or as most call it “The Skyline Drive.” Over the 105 miles we made a couple stops, but mostly we rode, taking in the view. We did have to stop a couple times for traffic that had stopped to watch and take pictures of a couple small, 125-150 pound bears. Near the 85 mile marker we saw a 250-300 pounder, black as black can be, standing with all four paws on one of the many stonewalls that line the mountain roadway. It was an adrenaline rush to see a bear that close, only about 15 feet and to have him not even be concerned. We kept rolling, only stopping now to stretch our legs and get a drink. At 1:30 we had getting home on our minds. Next ride we plan to focus on battles west and north of Petersburg. Some of these are places like Ream Station, where our Colonel James Adams Beaver was wounded for the fourth time and where his war would end. Follow that with stops at Pamplin, Stony Creek, Dinwiddie Courthouse and Five Forks and maybe go on to the road to Appomattox.
They say, “The destination on motorcycle is not what is important; it is the ride getting there.” Although I’ve enjoyed being with two friends who have the same passion for the ‘War Between the States” and where we’ve visited the battlefields that the men of the 148th have been and forded the streams; it’s been the ride. With the wind and the sun in our faces and our memories in the backs of mind now; we’re thinking about next adventure. I logged 964 miles during those 72 hours, arriving home safe and sound.
150 Years Ago
June 27th 1862; The Battle of Gaine’s Mill/ First Cold Harbor. The Union takes up a strong high ground position near Boatswain Creek. The troops are positioned between Cold Harbor and Mr. Gaine’s farm and mill. Lee has problems with coordinating assaults on the strong Federal positions and fails to dislodge their troops. The cost of this battle is 6,800 union casualties and 1,950 rebels. This battle gives General John Bell Hood’s Texas Brigade its reputation. June 27-28th The Battle of Garnett’s Farm and Golding’s farm is largely a standoff south of the Chickahominy River. June 29th, The Battle of Savage Station/ Frayer’s Farm (Glendale) Riddell’s Shop occur in a series of flanking maneuvers. This action causes in casualties 4,700 men, 2,500 are Federal troops. White Oak Swamp and Turkey Bridge follow with the Union Army falling back further and settling on Malvern Hill. The total casualties of these last maneuvers are 6,500 men. July 1st ; The Federals place 100 cannon on Malvern Hill. Lee makes a series of frontal assaults in an attempt to gain a decisive victory, however the confederate guns are unable to counter the fire power of the union artillery, as a result this days casualties total 8,500, 5,300 are rebels trying to take the hill. McClellan withdraws to trench works at Harrison’s landing where the Federal Army crosses the James River and the campaign ends.
No Juniata County casualties this week.
Donald E. Husler Jr.