Saturday, July 30, 2016

German private at Petersburg: 'Balls are whistling through ... '

1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery at Fort Richardson in Arlington, Va., in 1863.
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On Aug. 12, 1864, four days before he was wounded at the siege of Petersburg (Va.), 20-year-old August Freitag wrote a letter in old German to his parents in Collinsville, Conn. “One must always pay attention and make sure that the ink jar is not taken out of his hand by a bombshell,” wrote the soldier, who also went by Earnest, “because, large or small, the balls are whistling through here day and night.”

A private, Freitag died of his wounds August 26 at a hospital at Fortress Monroe, Va.,  only nine months after German immigrants Henry and Rosa Freitag went with their son to Hartford for his enlistment in the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery.

I found Freitag's letter in pension records in National Archives in Washington early last year, and posted it to Facebook when I returned home. Thanks to Facebook readers, the three-page letter, a brief window into the world of a young soldier, was quickly translated.

Freitag's name appears on a bronze plaque on a Civil War memorial in Collinsville among the names of 37 other Union soldiers whose remains lie in unknown graves in the South.

(Is the translation of Freitag's letter below correct? Do you have more information on the private? E-mail me here.)

Near Petersburg, 
August 12 1864

We were paid on the day which I have written to you about and yesterday on the 11th, I put $70 in a convert and entrusted it to our Lieutenant like all of the others. He is wounded in the arm and is going home for a vacation. If the money is not delivered to you, then you will have to ask at the post office or the delivery man.

I have so much news to write to you about but when I start to write, I forget it; first, it is difficult to write while under a tree, on the ground or on one knee, and second, one must always pay attention and make sure that the ink jar is not taken out of his hand by a bombshell, because, large or small, the balls are whistling through here day and night. Monday, a ship here at the landing blew up. It was heavily loaded with powder and shells, also Adams Express officer was on it. It was from our side and was probably blown up on purpose. It had come directly from Washington.

Converts are not sent any more with stamps because they are worth as much as silver money here on the front. When you have the money, write back to me.

Greetings to mother and my sister, as well as Heinrich.


Since I can’t send the letter until tomorrow, I have time to write to you that we have had orders since 8 days to await an air party every minute of the night, that is to say, that our fort would be blown into the air, and then it is up to us to do everything to persevere. Nothing has done like this up until now, since the Generals can’t hit anything with that kind of attack because they are far, far away.

But still, every evening when it gets dark some, including myself, go 1 or 2 miles down the line and then in the morning back to the artillery battery. The others can enjoy the beautiful view from up there, while we are down here, should there be an air party.

Don’t forget to send stamps.

Greetings from August.

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