First Wednesdays: A North Carolinian’s Experience During the Overland Campaign, Part 4

I apologize for getting behind on this as I had a busy Memorial Day weekend so I decided to delay the next part of Pearsall’s letters until today to coincide with First Wednesday.

George W. Pearsall’s regiment had not seen much action since the 12th of May and his letters of the 18th, 23rd, and the 29th reflected that.  When a Civil War regiment was not fighting, it was often a life of monotony and waiting.  In his letter of the 18th, Pearsall (still at Spotsylvania) narrated a bombardment from the Yankee lines, which were approximately two miles away by Pearsall’s estimation.  Although his regiment was not actively engaged, they still had to suffer in the open the intense cannonading from the Union’s precise and accurate artillery battalions, “which threw the dirt all over” Pearsall.  After just a few minutes of firing, “you cold[sic] not see a man 40 yards for all the smoke” he recalled.  Miraculously, Pearsall claimed that his regiment suffered only one man killed and 200 wounded (presumably minor wounds suffered from shrapnel and flying debris making up the majority of that statistic).

On the 21st of May, Lee’s army finally evacuated the trenches around Spotsylvania Court House to thwart another one of Grant’s flanking movements to the southeast.  The armies next meet at the North Anna River, which Grant intended to ford in several spots in attempt to draw Lee into battle on open ground to protect the approaches to Richmond.  Compared to the fighting of the previous weeks, it was comparatively minor, with isolated spots of serious action.  Pearsall’s regiment was mostly unengaged during the battle, with Pearsall himself in the rear on cooking detail at Hanover Junction, a major railroad hub and supply depot for Lee’s army.  Pearsall guessed (correctly, as it turns out) that the army was withdrawing towards Richmond.  Although it had been more than a week since he had seen action, his regiment had still served on the front lines the entire time, with Pearsall telling his wife that “those lines leavs me broke down”.  He abruptly ends the letter because “old coten is bothering me so I cant write”, contributing a humorous air to contrast his earlier feelings of weariness.

His letter of the 31st revealed that Lee’s army was now “75 miles nerrer Richmond” than they were when the campaign started, as Lee’s army had again withdrew from the North Anna lines to counter another of Grant’s turning movements.  Fortunately for Pearsall and his regiment, it had been three weeks since their last taste of combat, although the interim had not been without danger for him; while serving on picket duty, Pearsall recalled several close calls with opposing Yankee pickets, with shots passing between his legs and under his arm.  He also contends that the army is “all out of money” and he will not draw again until the next day.  He closes by proclaiming his happiness that the crops are doing well for his wife and that he will give some of his pay to his sons, Charly and Billy – “they ar mity smart.”  Earlier in the letter, Pearsall feared that this “fite has hardly begun” and he was fairly accurate; Lee and Grant were on a collision course for the vital crossroads at Cold Harbor.

Read Pearsall’s letter of the 18th here:

Read his letter of the 23rd here:

Read his letter of the 29th here:

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