Sunday, July 6, 2014

The 48th/150th: "We Are Digging A Mine. . .To Blow Up The Rebels"

150 years ago, the soldiers of the 48th were deep underground, nearing the end of their second week working to tunnel under the Confederate lines at Petersburg and "blow them out of existence," as one man stated, bluntly. At the mine entrance, Sgt. "Snapper" Reese kept track of the miners-turned-soldiers-turned miners as they came and went. They worked in teams of two or three, digging into the earth while other soldiers removed the dirt, constructed the timber framing for the mine, or supported in whatever way they could. At first the operation proceeded rapidly and within just a matter of days, the 48th's tunnel extended well over one hundred feet in length. But then the digging got tougher as the soldiers encountered a "putty-like marl," which the soldiers had to then dig up and around. And for each foot the tunnel grew, it took that much longer to remove the dirt, which was carried out one cracker box at a time.

Pleasants, Reese, and the men of the 48th did their best to maintain the secrecy of their project, though this did not, it seems, deter them from writing about it in their letters home. Albin Day, for example, a corporal in Company K, spoke about the mine project in a letter to his brother in Orwigsburg dated July 10, 1864. At that time, Corporal Day was in the hospital being treated for an injury to his arm. In this letter home, he spoke of his injured arm, the treatment he was getting, and, oh yes, the mine project. It is interesting that he mentioned it only in passing, without discussing the particulars. Perhaps this was because he was not, at that point, actively engaged in it.

Cpl. Albin Day's July 10, 1864 Letter To Brother Henry Day

Camp Battel of pettersBurg, virginia

July 10, 1864

Dear Brother

I now Sit Down to write A Few lines to let you know that I am well At present and hope to find you the Same. I am in the hospital Back in the rear. I have got A sore arm and the Doctors Don't know What it is. my arm was swollen as big as my leg and the Doctor wanted to take my arm off and I would not let him for I said to him I would rather Die than lose my arm but my arm is getting better fast. I Cand [can] use it a littel but the pain is Drawing in my right shoulder but I think it will be all wright in A few Weeks.
Dear Brother I have not received A letter from you in two months and I wrote three and to day the Chaplain Came around and give me A sheet of paper and A envelope and so I thought I would write another letter to you and If I would not get an answer and then It would be the last one.
We have no news here just now. A littel picket firing now and then. Our Regtament [regiment] is digging A mind [mine] for to Blow up the rebels for we are going to have A regellar [regular] siege here. we have some eighty pound guns.
So no more at present from your Brother Albin Day
give my best respects to mother and your wife and my love to my wife and also to Charley and Willey and all inquiring friends.
from Albin Day to his Brother Henry Day
Write Soon
Please excuse me for bad writing for my arm is sore to write good.

Henry Day Pictured, Presumably, With His Wife
Henry Day Served in a three-month unit at the start of the war but did not reenlist
The Grave of Albin Day in the Salem Evangelical Cemetery, Orwigsburg, PA

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