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“My constitution was some what broken by the exposure and hard usage I rec’d, while a prisoner of war… Deliver me from ever being taken a prisoner while mixed up with Uncle Sam’s tanned Soldiers …”
An excellent content letter from a 2nd Lieutenant in the 14th N.Y. Heavy Artillery, after being captured in the Battle of the Crater and held prisoner for seven months. Explores typical themes of health, combat, and comradeship, but provides scathing commentary on Confederate treatment of prisoners of war, and harsh assessment of the use of colored troops by the Union Army. Recounts how his Confederate captors humiliated white P.O.W.’s by marching them with colored troops and exposing them to the ridicule of Southern citizens in Petersburg. “The consequence was they bid to wreak their vengeance on all in the following manner. They took four darkies prisoners of war and formed them in double file they then placed four officers in rear of them and then four more of U.S. Army soldiers in rear of the officers, thereby forming a company of half & half White and black I think I never saw before a Co. recruited in so short a time as this. After the Co. was formed, we were marched, through the principal streets of Petersburg with a great crowd of Reb Soldiers following in our rear. Shouting how are you Yank’s: fight with Nigers will you ha ha…” GEORGE H. WING.
Autograph Letter Signed, to Capt. R.W. Livingston. Glens Falls, New York, July 19, 1865. 6 pp.
July 18th 1865.
Capt. R.W. Livingston,
Your welcome and very interesting letter of the 18th inst I recd., by to days mail, and I assure you it gave me much pleasure on receiving and perusing such an excelent letter especially as it was from an old Comrade in arms. I was sorry to hear that you are still suffering from your severe wounds, rec’d on the ever memorable 14th day of May 1864, though I might have known considering the severeness of your wounds that you must at this present time be a sufferer. I was more fortunate than you, for I returned home, with whole limbs although my constitution was some what broken by the exposure and hard usage I rec’d, while a prisoner of war. Yes; I am acquainted with your history, and allow me to say, with out flattering you in the least, that your history is one that any man might well be proud of considering; the very short notice your Townsmen had of your arrival home and the warm reception you recd from them is enough to convince any one how your history stands in the estimation of all  who are acquainted with it. In your letter you refered to my Brother Edgar, who was mortaly wounded at Drury’s Bluff and who died the day following, and was burried in Richmond, Va. Father has recently been down to Richmond, and, I am happy to state was able to find where Edgar was burried, which of course is a great consolation to us all. In yours, you request me to give you a synopsis of my service, _ _ _ After I left the 118th Regt. I joined the 14th Regt. N.Y. H. Artillery. We were heavy’s then, you know Any way that is what the infantry boys used to call us after we went into the field, with our Siege guns calibre 57 on our Shoulders. Now Capt, don’t you think it was to bad to laugh at us! Well, after joining the Regiment and performing duty in the diferant ports about N.Y. Harbor in the latter part of April 1864 we were ordered to report to Genl. Burnside then comd’g the 9th A.C. which was organizing near Alexandria, VA, previous to joining the Army of the Potomac which we did immediately. The 14th Regt. was engaged in nearly all of the Battles fought under Genl. Grant from the Rapidan to Petersburg Va., In front of Petersburg While was with the Regt. we fought two hard battles besides laying in the front works 47 days under fire. The first engagement in front of Petersburg was on the 17th day of June 1864. Our loss here was very heavy in enlisted  men, Also we lost our Major killed, Major Hedges, An exellant officer; allong with several line officers. The second battles was in the 30th day of July 1864. This battle was called the Battle, or rather the explosion of Burnsides mine In this engagement the johny’s gobbled up the left Wing of the 14th Regt. or rather your obt. Servant, Our loss in this engagement was heavy in killed and wounded, besids loosing in captured our Col. Three line officers and 65 enlisted men. I am not prejudicial; But I do think and say if it had not been for the colored troops engaged that day And we had had White troops instead with good management We might have gained the day. Deliver me from ever being taken a prisoner while mixed up with Uncle Sam’s tanned Soldiers. Why; the Johny’s went through me, as a dose of Salts, would they stole my watch and what little money I had allong with a Diary which I had kept all through the Campaigne. They then threatened to shoot me, for being an officer over niger troops as they expressed it. I denied the charge, but no go. Johny hit me over the head with the butt of his gun at the same time pointing with his finger towards the rear, and I took the hint without waiting for the kick I assure you. On arriving to the rear the officers were ordered to fall in together, You know misery likes Company  Well I was favored with my share for there were 80 officers in all captured. We here gave our names, rank, where and when captured and our differant States. By the way there were some 20 officers who belonged to the Colored troops. They gave their names as belonging to white regiments. By so doing the Rebels could not distinguish the Officers belonging to white troops from those belonging to the Colored troops which made them, the Rebs, very indidnant for they were very anxious to find out who the above named officers were. The consequence was they bid to wreak their vengeance on all in the following manner. They took four darkies prisoners of war and formed them in double file they then placed four officers in rear of them and then four more of U.S. Army soldiers in rear of the officers, thereby forming a company of half & half White and black I think I never saw before a Co. recruited in so short a time as this. After the Co. was formed, we were marched, through the principal streets of Petersburg with a great crowd of Reb Soldiers following in our rear. Shouting how are you Yank’s: fight with Nigers will you ha ha, &c. We dare not say any thing, but all kept up a heavy thinking. After marching us through all of the principal streets we were put on old box cars The cars and shifed to Danville Va where we remained  three day’s and nights. When we were again put aboard the cars and shifed to Columbia, S.C. arriving at the above named place on the 5th day of August 1864. Here we remained until February 15th 1865. When we were taken to Charloote N.C. at this place the Rebs told us we would soon be exchanged the news was to good to believe. The thought of once more getting enough to eat, and of having some clothes to wear, and best of all seeing our friends once more and that good old Flag the Stars and Stripes. Only those who have been prisoners and confined in Rebel dungeons can tell what joy such news caused amongst us. On the 28th day of February 1865 I signed the following parole at Goldsboro N.C. Form of Parole _ _ _
We the undersigned prisoners of War do give our parole of honor, that we will not take up arms again, nor serve a military police or constabulary force in Fort, Garrison, or Field work, nor as Guards of prisoners, Depots or Stores, nor to discharge any duty usually performed by Soldiers until exchanged under the provision of the Cartel entered into July 22d 1862. And we also plege ourselfs not to communicate any information in our possession to our Generals, or others.
We arrived in the Union lines on the 1st day of March 1865 having  been a prisoner seven months and one day. While a prisoner we were all but marred and we suffered very much for the want of clothing &c Six months out of the seven, the Rebels did not issue an ounce of meat to us. Our rations consisted of 5 pints of Corn and cob meal for 5 days 2 tablespoonsfull of salt for 5 do 1 Quart of Songham “ “ “ ½ pint of rice “ “ “ I got as fat as a [illegible] on this food. The rebels did not issue us any thing to put our meal in and the consequence was we had to resort to our Yankee ingenuity. Those of us who were the fortunate possessors of a pair of drawers, cut off the legs sewed up one and which made an excelant bag. Others used their boots providing they were whole. I have come to the conclusion that any man who was or has been a prisoner of war during this Rebellion must have learned how to economize. Well, Capt. I have written a much longer letter than I intended to and if you have the patience to rear it you will do well. Thankfull that we are alive and able to correspond with each other and hoping to hear from you soon. I am sir most Respt yours, &c.
Geo. H. Wing
In June and July, 1864, after Ulysses S. Grant failed to seize Petersburg during his surprise crossing of the James River, the Union Army settled into a siege. For nearly ten months, the Union and Confederate armies built complex earthworks and fortifications, extending their lines further east and west. The best chance Grant had to break the siege came on July 30, 1864, in the Battle of the Crater.
Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants of the 48th Pennsylvania Regt. originated the idea of constructing a large mine shaft underneath Confederate fortifications, thinking that if infantry exploited the breach quickly enough, then Lee’s line of defenses would become sundered, and untenable. Pleasants’s corps commander, Ambrose Burnside (IX Corps) approved the scheme, but it took awhile for George Meade – commanding the Army of the Potomac – and Grant to be convinced of its viability. Still, Pleasants and his crew started digging in late June, and by July 17, they had reached a point below the Confederate lines in the sector of General William Mahone’s Division. Meade and Grant then abruptly changed their mind, and ordered that the shaft be filled with 8000 pounds of powder, and, with Burnside, began planning the attack.
Though the plan showed great promise, a last-minute decision to change the lead division augured ill. Burnside originally planned for General Edward Ferrero to lead his division of U.S. Colored Troops into the Confederate breach, and they received special training for the operation. However, Meade decided (and Grant concurred) that a failure would bring negative publicity to African-American soldiers and cause political repercussions to the Republican Party in an election year. Burnside’s other division commanders drew lots, and General James Ledlie was given the assignment; Ferrerro’s Division and Burnside’s other two divisions would follow. On July 30, Pleasants lit the fuse; after a brief delay caused by a poor fuse, the explosion occurred, causing a giant crater 170 feet long, killing roughly 300 Confederate soldiers instantly.
Ledlie did not lead his men into battle, and, unprepared for their mission, they charged into the crater, rather than around it. Meanwhile, Confederate General William Mahone launched a vigorous counterattack, and his men were able to shoot down on the Union soldiers below. Determined, Burnside ordered Ferrero’s Colored Troops into the melee, but the result, after hours of hard fighting in the crater, was a disastrous Union defeat. Confederate losses numbered roughly one thousand, while the Union Army lost roughly 4,400, including around five hundred prisoners (among them, Lt. Wing).
Burnside and Ledlie were both relieved from command. Of the defeat, Grant reported to Army Chief of Staff Henry Halleck, “It was the saddest affair I have witnessed in this war.” The Siege of Petersburg lasted another eight months.
Eicher, David. The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War
(New York, 2003), pp. 720-723.