Letter From Chaplain Turner
Headquarters 1st U.S.C. Troops
In the field near Point of Rocks, Aug. 14th, 1864
Christian Recorder: August 27, 1864
Turner writes about the explosion that took place August 9, 1864 at City Point, Virginia.
Mr. Editor: - It has been some time since I have written anything from this part of the country. This has been mainly owing to my absence from the army on extra duty. Having, however, returned for a few days, I was glad to see everything have so cheerful and hopeful an aspect as were exhibited upon the countenances and seen in the general out-goings (whether spoken or acted) of the thousands here assembled for the defense of the nation.
Quietness, as a general thing, prevails throughout the army, with the exception of an occasional shell, which may be seen or heard spitting its venom through the air, or hurling its vengeance in shattered missiles over or in some camp, startling for the time the one nearest its approach and making laughter for those who saw others dodge or squat behind some supposed breastwork or defense.
The most disagreeable feeling that we now experience is, that which grows out of the protracted dryness of the weather, the intensity of the heat, the clouds of dust, which neither respect eyes nor clothes, and the swarms of flies, some of which, I learn, can draw their ration of vital wine through a fellow’s coat, waistcoat and shirt, without any apparent encumbrance. If rebel flies are specimens of themselves, they are pretty rocky Johnnies.
Nothing of much importance has taken place lately in our noble 3rd Division, 18th A.C., more than that we have another division commander Col. John H. Holman, who has been in command since the retirement of General Hinks, having taken sick and gone home, was soon succeeded by General Payne, who is, to all appearance, the man for the place.
I had the pleasure of conversing with him for some time, and found him to be very approachable seemingly awake to every motion and gesture that a man might make.
He presents no great physiognomical wonders to the ordinary spectator, nor assumes a dictatorial majesty upon introduction, but with eyes that sparkle with evidences of a superiority over mankind in common, you can see in him a mind highly intensified with the elements of an intellectuality, measuring credibility, if not completely with his arduous responsibilities.
I cannot speak of his philanthropy, and the principles of his humanitarianism; for hereafter I do not intend to call any man even a gentleman, in public print, until I have proved that fact sufficiently. I have been so often deceived on that point, that I think it is now time to think twice and speak once. I only grant that God may bless our commander, and grant him great success in all his efforts.
Last Tuesday, City Point was made the theatre of an awful carnage, by the tragic display of opposing elements. A boat loaded with ammunition, lying at the wharf through some stealthy artifice, took fire and exploded. My attention was first called to it some fifteen miles below the Point, on the James River, by a dense column of smoke, the base of which, in exciting grandeur, seemed to rest upon the bosom of the river-and in length stretching across both the river and its adjacent plains.
No one on the boat at the time appears to know the cause, but speculations are rife. What interpretation to give it no one knows, so we comforted ourselves with supposition till we arrived near the point, where we saw thousands on the wharf and upon the hill, as well as the effects of some desolating sweep, which seemed to have completely demolished the grandeur and effaced the beauty of this former site.
Many then supposed that General Grant was about to retreat and was destroying the place. In this state of heated curiosity we soon ran up to the wharf, and learned that an ordnance boat had been blown up. To attempt a description of the frightful scene would be assuming to do what our ability would be inadequate for. But the long lieu of store houses,—many of which were blown to distant quarters,—the immense quantity of guns, saddles, harness, weapons, tents, express and mail matter, and the terrible effects produced throughout the neighboring vicinity by the awful atmospheric concussion, is not to be compared with the loss of life which followed the august battle which matter bad with nature.
A pile of dead men had been collected and placed on the hill, some of whom looked frightfully mangled, while pieces of human bodies lay in terrific profusion in every direction.
Some dear wife will anxiously await her husband’s arrival; some father his son; some sister her brother, and so on, but they never will come. The place was crowded with people as is always the case, therefore they suffered irrespectively.
Before closing this letter, I must remark, in honor to certain friends, that it has been my privilege to visit Washington recently in connection with certain duties, which I was ordered to perform. It was my privilege to get several important articles for the benefit of our soldiers, besides bringing with me a large quantity of personal packages for several different regiments.
Without intentional disrespect to any person, however small and inconsiderable they may be, I will mention the names of Mrs. Henry Cover, who presented me in behalf of the Colored Ladies’ Soldiers Relief Association in Georgetown, D.C. $20 in money and several articles to be given or administered as the case might be, to such cases of necessity as might come under my personal observation. To say this was noble, would be to use an epithet entirely inadequate, Let the act then speak for itself.
I take pleasure also in mentioning the name of Miss Laura Simms, who is better known as the agent for the Recorder, in Washington, D.C. She is a lady of splendid literary attainments and an indefatigable advocate of educational development. She also presented me with eight or ten dollars’ worth of literary matter, sundry in its nature.
There is another I would like to mention: he is a large, fat gentleman, but his name is beyond my recollection. Should his name come to my memory, I will mention it at some future time. He visits Israel Church. My thanks, however, to all parties in behalf of those who shall benefited by them.
I have the honor to be
H. M. Turner,
Chaplain 1st U.S.C. Troops