This letter was written by George A. Sargent (1843-1928), the son of Thomas Sargent (1809-18xx) and his wife Rebecca of South Boston. George initially attempted to enlist in a Massachusetts regiment but was rejected by a doctor who found the eighteen year-old too skinny. So George enlisted as a bugler in November 1861 with Co. H, 1st Rhode Island Cavalry, and transferred to Co. L, 1st New Hampshire Cavalry on 7 January 1864. He mustered out of the service on 15 July 1865 at Concord, New Hampshire. [George’s diary from the Civil War is published under the title, “For Our Beloved Country: The Diary of a Bugler.”]
George married Josephine Nichols in 1874 and resided in Reading, Massachusetts, where he worked as a shoe cutter. He died on 20 May 1928 in Reading.
Addressed to Mr. Thomas Sargent, South Boston, Mass.
Dorchester opposite Third Street
[Washington] D. C.
August 4th 1864
I received your note containing the photographs and money a few days ago and your letter last night. I suppose you will be surprised to see my letter dated from this place, but I will explain matters bye and bye.
I suppose you would like some of the particulars of our late raid so I will commence from the time we left camp which was on Tuesday [July] 26th. We left in the afternoon traveling all night, crossed the Appomattox about nine, and halted about 2 o’clock near the James. We did not unsaddle but layed down on the ground, tying our bridles to our legs and sleeping until daylight when we crossed the James on muffled pontoons. I saw those four 20 lb. Parrott guns that were captured by our infantry that morning. We kept advancing till we got within about three miles of Malvern Hill where we met the enemy and had quite a little skirmish. The two forces slept within pistol shot of each other that night.
Next morning when we went to water our horses, we went within 100 yards of the reb pickets. We could see them very plainly, being posted on the edge of a cornfield. That morning our cavalry had a sharp fight with Hill’s Corps, driving our boys back some little ways. Just as we were going to the rear, the rebs charged on one of our batteries but they were ready for them, giving them a double ration of grape and canister. They gave way, then our Brigade charged and captured a battle flag from a North Carolina regiment, and some prisoners. We then fell back about a mile, letting the 2nd Corps take care of the rebs. We went into camp and stayed until midnight when we stole across the river and slept till morning, when the Brigade had orders to be ready to fight on foot.
All the band was ordered to go with them but four to take care of the wounded. I was one of the four detailed to stay behind to look out for the horses and instruments. As the boys did not take any rations, two of us took them out some towards night. They had not had any fighting then and were not likely to. When I left, our forces were drawn up in line of battle and the Gen. with his staff and orderlies were riding up and down the line with the three battle flags captured the day before, trying to draw out the rebs but it was no go. They occupied the woods while our forces was out on the open plain (called Strawberry Plain) about a mile from the woods.
Our cavalry came back across the river that night, started off at two next morning [July 30, 1864], traveling the whole length of our lines in front of Petersburg. We went very close to the city — near [enough] to see the steeples. We arrived there about the time of that terrible but disastrous charge on the reb rifle pits [Battle of the Crater]. I saw great numbers of the wounded coming in, the biggest portion of them being negroes. It was the intention for the cavalry corps to make a dash on the south side of Petersburg, but the infantry failing to accomplish their work, we were not wanted.
We stopped that night near the left of the army, travelled all the next day, and brought up near City Point. We learnt here that our division — the 1st — was to embark for Maryland. Our brigade was the first to start commencing on the morning of 1st August. Our regiment did not all get aboard till midnight and started off down the James on the Thomas Powell about one. We passed between Fortress Monroe and the rip raps just noon next day. And at just noon next day we passed Mt. Vernon playing the dead march, phales hymn, and star spangled banner — the bell on the boat tolling in the meantime. We passed Alexandria and landed at Giesboro Point about three o’clock yesterday afternoon.
I have been somewhat in a hurry with this because we are liable to start off at any minute, some say to Tennallytown, some to Hagerstown. So goodbye till next [letter] which will probably be from Maryland or Pennsylvania.