|Fighting at Dutch Gap|
By Chaplain Turner
Headquarters 1st U.S.C.T
Harrison’s Landing, Va.
Sept. 18, 1864
Christian Recorder: September 24, 1864
Turner writes about the happenings of his regiment.
Mr. Editor---Harrison’s Landing has been the theatre of wonderful transitions. Many are the relics yet extant, which give evidence to this fact.
The neighboring houses, though rid of all their furniture, bear an internal splendor of unexceptionable interest. Some of them are said to be two hundred years old and were built of brick transported from England in the days of William IV., if my reflection of history be not at fault. Some of them also bear marks of architectural grandeur, which, though now considered ancient, will vie strongly in skillful genius with the most refined style of modern date.
The Goddess of Opulence seems to have lavished her most profuse blessings upon the heads of the old slave-holding inhabitants of this place, until she was succeeded by the present god of the Democrats (General George B. McClellan) whose army, in 1862, greatly defaced its natural beauty and artificial attractions. But this great god of Democratic economy and frugal thriftiness, endeavored, on his departure, to make due reparation for all the inadvertent defacements wrought by his comrades. To do so properly, he left Government property to the supposed amount of $2,000,000, vast quantities of which were carried off by the rebel army, and the rest gathered by the neighboring inhabitants.
But, as I may refer to this subject again, we pass to notice a recent visit made to Dutch Gap. Having a detachment from my regiment up there, I left this place, a few days ago, to visit them, and very singularly, just before I arrived at that place, the rebels, who are almost incessantly shelling the working party, ceased firing, which rendered the opportunity exceedingly favorable.
The river, at this point, takes a bend southward, which continues four miles, then, curving around a high mound of earth, runs in the precise direction it did before it takes the first bend, thus forming a peninsula, the neck of which is not more than a hundred yards wide. Across this neck General Butler is trying to cut a canal, sufficient to admit gunboats and monitors.
This canal has been in process of excavation for nearly seven weeks, and, taken from the water-line, is about eight-tenths complete. But there yet remains a depth of eighteen or twenty feet below the water-line to be excavated. That portion is, I learn, to be cut by mud-machines. Some time will yet be required to complete the work.
The workmen are constantly harassed by the explosion of rebel shells in their midst, which sometimes occasions fearful destruction among them. But a calmer and more jovial set of men cannot be found. Laughing, talking, singing, praying, clapping hands and dancing go on as though no foul foe were within a hundred miles. Five rebel batteries are visible on the right. Our pickets and the rebels’ are within talking distance.
I neglected to say, that the entire working party is composed of colored men. The rebels call them black Yankees, and they call the rebels gray-backs, rebs. Papers as well as words are exchanged.
Gunboats and monitors lie around the working party, looking as though they were charged with fearful vengeance. After remaining there twenty-four hours, I left for Deep Bottom, but had not more than got out of the place, than I heard the whiz of a shell, and, looking behind me, saw the earth being terribly ploughed up by the dreadful explosion of a monster shell. Then commenced an awful duel between our forces and the rebels.
Arriving at Deep Bottom in the afternoon, the night was very agreeably spent with Chaplain Stevens and Thos. Chester, the very efficient colored correspondent of the Philadelphia Press. I took a survey of the works, after visiting another detachment of my soldiers. I was informed that several colored soldiers of the Thirty-sixth United States Colored Troops had deserted from that post, only a few moments previous to my arrival, and had gone over to the rebels. Another soldier of the same regiment, in attempting to do the same thing, was caught and placed in custody. He was awaiting his doom, which, I presume, will be death. I can neither hear nor imagine the reason why these men desert to the rebels. Perhaps it is a mere wife-love, some of them having wives South, to whom they feel much endeared, and not knowing anything concerning their condition, it seems to prey upon their minds, until all fear, dread and manhood is lost. And thus they desert.
But the Government is determined to shoot them as fast as detected in the attempt. This leads me to speak of three soldiers, with whom I conversed freely. They were laboring under much mental anguish on account of receiving intelligence that their wives at home had married and taken up with other men---the wives of two of them had remarried , and the third had absconded. My advice in the premises was asked, and I know of no answer which suite my feeling of indignation more than this which I freely gave: “Let them go to the devil.”
Any cowardly civilian, who would take advantage of a brave soldier’s wife, on account of her poverty, owing to her husband receiving only seven dollars per month and the failure of the Government to pay him regularly, ought to have his rotten tongue pulled out by the roots, his throat cut, his heart burned, and his infamous carcass devoured by snakes.
I am very happy to inform you, that there is quite a religious element in our regiment. Last Sabbath we had church three times, and nearly every night in the week we either have preaching or prayer meeting. We have partially organized a church, and our membership is rapidly increasing. I am often reminded of old Methodist churches when I hear the loud and hearty “Amen” coming up from scores of voices.
I have licensed one preacher in my regiment, who is proving himself very useful. Besides, I have another very efficient local preacher, from Washington City, who was formerly a member of my charge in that city. I have reference to Rev. John Hames. His usefulness is incalculable. Some of my brave soldiers wish baptism by immersion. Their wish shall be granted, God being my helper. I wish I could baptize the whole regiment, Colonel and all.
Having just received a letter from my wife, informing me of the death of one of my children, I will now close.
Very truly, H. M. T.