These letters were written by Private Daniel Hicks Hopping (1817-1868) of the 24th New York Cavalry. They include descriptions of the battles of Cold Harbor, the Crater (Petersburg), Weldon Railroad (Petersburg), and two cavalry raids toward Stony Creek Station. Hopping was a 44-year-old carriage maker in 1861 when he enlisted in Battery A, 3rd New York Artillery. He was discharged for disability in March 1862, but in August 1863 enlisted in the 15th New York Cavalry. Again he was discharged, this time for being “too slight” (Hopping stood 5’ 6” but must have been pencil thin). In December 1863 he enlisted in the 24th New York Cavalry, a regiment made up largely of men from the old 24th New York Infantry, whose term had expired earlier in the year.
Daniel Hopping was born in Throopsville, Cayuga county, New York—the son of Silas Hopping, Jr. (1779-1868) and Maria Hunt (1782-1874). He wrote the letter to his brother Joseph Hopping (1811-1893). Daniel was married to Sophia J. Hurd (1835-1863) but enlisted in the 24th New York Cavalry after her death on 26 July 1863.
Battlefield [Cold Harbor]
June 9th 1864
Yours of May 26th has been received. I was glad to hear from you. I wrote Caty June 2nd, I think. Soon after I mailed her letter, our brigade was ordered to move. We marched about three miles and halted for a rest, It was very warm and dusty and we were told to cook our dinner and make ourselves comfortable. Our meal was soon dispatched as we had nothing but hard crackers and coffee when we lay down for a rest. We were soon aroused by a sharp volley of musketry, half a mile in our rear, and found that our rear guard had been attacked. ¹ We were soon in line of battle and started at double quick to support our rear and reach a line of rifle pits distant ¼ of a mile. ² Skirting the edge of the woods, we had to cross the open field. We gained half the distance and were met by a volley of minié balls, but we reached the rifle pits in time although we were under a heavy fire for some distance.
We suffered some loss before we had gained our position, but not as much as I should have supposed under the circumstances. We were but nicely in position when the rebs charged on us. On they came, yelling like demons. But we were ready for them. It was the last charge many of them will ever make. Our artillery soon commenced shelling from our rear, and the enemy opened on us with shell, grape and canister, but our position was such that the enemy fire was not very effective.
The battle lasted from four until eight P. M. What the loss on the side of the enemy was will not be known soon, but I was told by those who looked up our dead and wounded that they lay very thick near our rifle pits. The loss in the 24th [N. Y.] Cavalry was 106 killed, wounded, and missing. What our whole loss was I have not been able to learn.
At nine P. M., our brigade fell back a mile and took up another position working all night entrenching. Next morning at four o’clock, the enemy were attacked, they having advanced a division, taking position about one fourth of a mile from our front. The 24th [New York Cavalry] being in the front line and occupying a position to support the artillery, gave us a fair view of the engagement—or part of it. The attack was made by a brigade of Pennsylvania troops who advanced on the enemy across our breastworks and charged the first line of the rebs. ³ A heavy line of skirmishers appeared in the edge of the woods some forty rods in front of our line. The instant our troops had crossed it, but were quickly driven back as our brave fellows advanced unflinching, but some of them never reached the woods. Some fell before they had advanced twenty paces from our breastwork.
The wounded were assisted to the rear as quickly as possible. I noticed one poor fellow who was shot through the cheek, his tongue hanging from his mouth having been severed by the ball. There are many incidents of that terrible battle which I cannot mention now. The rebs fought like very devils but they were met every time and repulsed. The battle ceased at dark and the rebs fell back as usual leaving us in possession of their earthworks.
We are now nine miles from Richmond. There has been no fighting for several days except skirmishing, but I am looking for a heavy battle soon. Our army is building very strong fortifications and making other preparations for defense. You have an opportunity of knowing more of the army movements than I have as I but seldom see a paper.
My health is still very good although I have seen some tough times. You must continue to write and give me all the news. I have not yet received Caty’s letter containing the stamps, but I may soon. I send my best wishes to you all. Tell Caty and all of them to write.
Yours truly, — D. H. Hopping
¹ The 24th New York Cavalry (dismounted) were brigaded with the 2nd N. Y. Mounted Rifles (dismounted), the 14th N. Y. Heavy Artillery and the 2nd Penn. Provisional Heavy Artillery (these last two heavy artillery units being used as infantrymen). The Brigade was attached to Thomas L. Crittenden’s 1st Division in Burnside’s 9th Army Corps. When the 24th N. Y. Cav. was ordered to rest, they were near the Bowles farm, deployed in a line south of the Shady Grove Road. It was General Jubal Early’s three divisions led by Rodes, Gordon and Heth that swung around Bethesda Church and attacked the far right of the Union lines on Thursday afternoon, June 2nd.
² These rifle pits were the same ones built during the fight on May 30, 1864.
³ Crittenden’s brigade was held in reserve supporting the artillery while Griffin, Willcox, and Potter assaulted Early’s men on the morning of June 3rd.
In the following letter, Hopping describes the 30 July 1864 Battle of the Crater and the artillery duel that preceded it on the 28th. The 24th New York Cavalry (dismounted because they were not yet given horses) were assigned to Col. Humphrey’s 2nd Brigade, Brig. General Willcox’s Third Division, of Maj. General Burnside’s 9th Corps. Humphrey’s Brigade entered the fight around 8:30 A. M. and managed to break through the Confederate works on the south flank of the crater but the success was short-lived. By the time the USCT entered the fray, the field was strewn with a flow of wounded and panicked comrades, slowing their progress.
Addressed to J. H. Hopping, Esq., Auburn, New York
[Before Petersburg, Virginia]
July 29, 1864
Yours of the 18th I have received. Also one from Catz which I have answered. On the 28th our Brigade was ordered to be in readiness for the march in one hour’s time. Accordingly, tents were struck, our traps packed, and we were soon on the move. A soldier is supposed to know nothing in the service except to obey orders. We moved back to the rear out of sight of the Rebs’ lookout posts, then marched down to the left along our line some five miles. We are stationed on the extreme left and to the rear, forming a skirmish line and picket line about a mile in advance of the skirmish line to prevent a flank movement of the enemy, or a surprise. There are other troops in connection with us.
I’m out on picket now. We have five men on a post stationed some 15 rods apart. My post is in the edge of the woods a short distance from the residence of some planter who has taken the oath of allegiance and remains at home with his family protected by a pile of our men, laughing in his sleeve in the meantime probably at how he is coming it over the Yankees. I hope we may be kept on this duty the balance of the campaign. We are away from the dust, smoke, and many other disagreeables closely connected with the main body of the army.
Last night about sundown, cannonading commenced in the direction of Petersburg. It soon became very severe for a mile or more along the line. Heavy mortars, sixty-four pounder siege guns and of various caliber were used in such rapid succession, causing such a continual reverberation that one could hardly distinguish one gun from another. The sky was illumined over Petersburg with all the appearance that the city was in flames on account of the distance and continual discharge of artillery. I could not tell whether they were engaged with small arms or not. You need not be surprised to hear that a severe engagement has taken place and that Petersburg is in ashes.
I had to close suddenly day before yesterday. Our picket line received orders to fall back to the skirmish line, pack up at once and be ready to march at a moment’s notice. We marched back to the right and halted near our camp which we left two days before. We had orders to rest until three o’clock and then be ready to march with nothing but our arms, haversacks, and canteen. It began to look ominous of a battle.
We started at three directly for the front and in the direction of Petersburg. We halted near our front line and found a large force of the 9th Corps massed for an attack on the enemy. We waited until the sun was about rising when we were startled suddenly by a convulsive movement of the earth and a dull, heavy explosion. Almost simultaneously one hundred pieces of artillery belched forth pouring tons of shot and shell into the enemy’s front lines of earthworks. The ball had opened. A rebel fort had blown to atoms. Standing in front and close to their front line of works, before the enemy had time to recover (from the effects of the explosion), a division of the 9th Corps had charged on their front line and carried it. The enemy had now become fully sensible of what was transpiring and opened on our men with grape and canister and musketry from their second line, but wholly regardless of danger they soon reached the 2nd line and carried it. But it was done at a fearful cost of life. A terrible artillery duel was going on dealing death on every hand. Our division held what they had gained until ten o’clock when a division of colored troops were ordered in to relieve them and charge on the 3rd line. They went in and advanced near to the 3rd line when the Black Rascals broke and run like sheep. That decided the battle. The day was lost. The enemy charged on them and soon had taken back all we had gained. With the exception of the explosion of the fort, they stood where they did before the battle commenced. I am informed the fort contained 2 regiments with a General and his staff. The fort presented a horrible sight when our troops reached it. Men mangled in all ways imaginable.
I have it from good authority that our loss is five thousand—3 of white and 2 of colored troops in killed, wounded and prisoners. I suppose we have lost more in prisoners than the enemy have. Yesterday at four P. M., Burnside asked for a truce to bury the dead and remove the wounded [but] for some reason it was not granted until this morning at 8 o’clock. It lasted four hours. It was a hard sight to see them lying on the field within a few rods from our works and could render no assistance. Many died no doubt which might have been saved could they have received help but such is the fortunes of war.
I have not space to give you a description of this battle as I would like to. I would like to see what the press says about it. Please send me a paper. I had some pretty close calls that day but am all right yet. I consider this campaign a total failure.
Give my best regards to all the family. Yours &c., — D. H. H.
Before Petersburg [Virginia]
August 16, 1864
Yours of August 11th I have just received. We are in the same position as when I wrote you last, holding the line where the charge was made from on July 30th [see Battle of the Crater]. Butler has had a fight down on the right and I hear has command of the railroad from Petersburg to Richmond. How far otherwise he has been successful, I did not learn. There is now only on line of battle in the center where our brigade are. The troops are lying in our rear having been sent either to the right or left. There has nothing transpired recently in our vicinity of much note. The usual picket and artillery firing is kept up. A few men are killed or wounded every day.
It is intensely hot today. We had a good rain two days ago which was very reviving. There are many sick and our Division Hospital is filling up fast so I hear. I have not been feeling very well for some days. Still able to do duty, but there are many in the regiment in a worse condition than myself.
I received Caty’s letter with $3 all right and answered it. I think the 75th will find it some rougher campaigning in Virginia than they did in Louisiana. We read about the [American] Revolution trying men’s souls. This campaign tries both soul and body. You mention a fight the 9th Corps had with the enemy on the 7th inst. Part of the corps might have been in the fight but not to my knowledge.
Do the abolitionists still say use up the last man and the last dollar to subjugate the South? If they do, they had better shoulder the musket and turn out en masse, and come down here. I think they would find it quite a different affair. I believe the best military men in the Federal army are convinced that it’s time to have peace otherwise than by fighting, and that it can be done honorably to both parties. I think it a poor argument to say that after we have sacrificed millions of human lives and almost impoverished the country, that we must fight it out if the country is ruined beyond redemption. For my part, I have seen enough of fighting and enough of the war as it has been carried on, and I am for peace and I almost know that I am speaking the sentiments of the mass of the Potomac Army. The sacrifices and sufferings of the Army of the Potomac in this summer campaign has been sufficient to establish peace to the country if the conduct of the war had been just and right, and I hope the All-wise Being who ruleth the universe will put it in the hearts of the people of the nation to see that peace is better than war, and that might is not right.
Excuse this short letter as I am pressed for time. Write soon as I don’t like to see the mail come unless I get a letter. Give my kind regards to all the family and friends. Yours truly, — D. H. Hopping
P. S. Tell Amead to write and tell me what he thinks of the war.
Before Petersburg [Virginia]
September 4th 1864
Yours of August 24th I have received and read with pleasure. It must be quite exciting times with those liable to the draft and profitable to those who wish to avail themselves of the opportunity to go as substitutes. But if I was in Cayuga county, a free man, and was offered a good title to the whole county to serve one year in this double-damned nigger war—knowing what I now know, I would consider myself insulted. This accursed war was instituted by demagogues and gamblers of the North and from thousands of sanctuaries throughout the Northern States have ascended prayers to the Almighty to sustain them in this unnatural and wicked wholesale murder. Never in the view I take of matters was such blasphemy and insult offered to the great Author and Judge of all mankind.
I see by the papers that McClellan has he nomination for the Presidency on the Democratic ticket. Well I am no politician, but I think it is quite time that something was done to bring about a better state of things. For the past ten days, our brigade have been almost continually on duty or on the march day and night. It is almost a miracle that many of the 24th are let to tell their friends that they are still in the Army of the Potomac.
About ten days ago, we occupied some works in the advance, not more than twenty rods from the enemy. Orders came to march at three in the morning. About twelve at night, the enemy opened two batteries on us from right and left, with shells filled with iron bullets from the size of a musket ball to that of an inch diameter. The batteries were so near that the shell would burst before the report of the gun could be heard, giving us no warning until we saw the blaze of the infernal shell and heard the whizzing of its fragments and its contents. Often before the report died away could be heard the painful cry of some of our comrades who had fallen to rise no more. Two men were killed that morning within a few feet of me and many were wounded all round me. One shell bursting within ten feet of me wounded five, two of them mortally. Perhaps some protecting hand warded off the deadly missiles.
At the taking of the Weldon Railroad, our regiment were on picket. We had just been relieved by another regiment not to exceed twenty minutes when they were flanked by a large force of the enemy and all captured with eight of our men who had stopped to talk with some of the relief. I don’t know but we were unfortunate in being relieved so soon.
We are now some three miles from Petersburg building breastworks, and forty in advance of the old line of works, and straightening the line. Our regiment are on fatigue twenty-four hours and on picket the next twenty-four. It has been quiet along the lines for some days. The enemy in our front are about a mile off. The indications are that we are preparing for winter quarters here, if necessary.
My health is very good. Tell Caty I am sorry to hear that she is still sick. I found the stamps all right. I don’t wonder that Francis don’t like campaigning in Virginia. Where was he when he wrote you? Tell him I would like to hear from him.
Give my best respects to all the family and friends. Yours truly, — D. H. Hopping
Winter Quarters, Virginia
We are near our old camp some 3 iles from Petersburg, staying 3 in a log shanty when we are not out scouting, on a raid, or on picket, which we are ¾ of the time. On the night of the 29th of November, a party of 75 from the regiment went in search of a guerrilla camp guided by a contraband. We found the camp some 10 miles distant, nicely situated on a small island in a swamp. We came upon them about 2 o’clock in te morning and found them [to be] about fifteen in number, fast asleep, and we should have bagged the whole lot if one of the men had not fired his carbine too soon. We, however, killed 3, wounded 3 more, and took one prisoner. Also recovered 7 of our horses they had taken from us.
December 1st. Our Division [David McM. Gregg’s entire Second Cavalry Division] went out to Stony Creek Station on the Weldon Railroad some twenty miles from camp. We captured 190 prisoners including 7 commissioned officers, 5 baggage wagons, 30 mules, and 5 horses, and burnt the freight house containing some considerable army stores. ¹ We also burnt a large steam grist and saw mill. We had some sharp skirmishing for a short time. The loss on either side was slight.
December 7th, the Division started on a raid accompanied by part of the 2nd and 5th Corps. We reached the Weldon Railroad near Stony Creek Station the first day and destroyed some 3 miles of track before dark. Next morning the infantry ² joined us and we operated together destroying the road as far as Belfield, some forty miles from Petersburg where we found the enemy in strong force and entrenched. ³ The object of the raid seemed to have been accomplished thus far. We had very effectually destroyed over 20 miles of railroad. A whole brigade would take hold of the rail and ties and turn the whole thing over bodily. Another party followed in the rear, building fires from pine fence rails which were plenty, buring the ties and warping the rails so that they were entirely useless.
A severe storm of rain mixed with snow now set in and rations for men and horses being nearly exhausted I think prevented an attack being made on the enemy’s works. We countermarched by the same road we marched out by. The enemy followed us some 25 miles and we had skirmishing in the rear and flank considerable of the time. Passing through the small village of Comans Well, we learned that 5 infantrymen which had straggled to the rear had been killed by bushwhackers. Gen. Warren now issued an order to burn everything of value on the road and the order was obeyed to the letter. Some of the finest buildings I have seen in Virginia was on our road to camp and in less than 10 hours, there was nothing left of them but smoking embers and stacks of chimneys. There was much connected with the raid that the papers can better inform you of than I can. There must have been a large amount of property destroyed.
My facilities for letter writing are not very good at present and I am also pressed for time. I get but few letters. Yours of November 12th was the last. I wish my friends would write oftener and I will answer them all.
Yours truly, — D. H. Hopping
Regards to all.
¹ “Among the prisoners were significant numbers of dismounted men from the 4th South Carolina Cavalry and the Jeff Davis Legion of Mississippi. At least a few members of the Holcombe South Carolina Infantry were also present. After this fight, Gregg did what he could to destroy the supplies then located at Stony Creek Depot. The depot itself was burned, along with 3,000 sacks of corn, 500 bales of hay, a locomotive and cars, bacon, Government clothes, ammunition, and various other items.” [Source: The Siege of Petersburg Online]
² The infantry (22,000 men), were led by Gen. Gouverneur Warren and “consisted of his own three Fifth Corps divisions under Crawford, Griffin, and Ayres and Mott’s Division of the Second Corps. The men were given 60 rounds of ammo and 4 days rations to carry, with 40 more and two more in wagons One battery of artillery accompanied each infantry division in support. Much of Gregg’s Second Cavalry Division provided advance scouting and screening duties for the exposed column.” [Source: The Siege of Petersburg Online]
³ “The town of Belfield was just north of the Meherrin River, with Hicksford to the south. Confederate General Wade Hampton left most of his forces in three redoubts behind the Meherrin River in Hicksford. But he also sent the 5th North Carolina Cavalry across the river into Belfield to prop up the reserve infantry forces stationed there. The Confederates defending Belfield and Hicksford didn’t have long to wait before Gregg’s lead elements showed up around 3 p.m. Gregg probed with several feeble attacks, but at no point was a serious effort made to force a crossing. As the cavalry probed at the Confederates in Belfield, the Union infantry continued to wreck railroad, ultimately tearing up the track almost all the way to Hicksford, sixteen to seventeen miles in all over the course of the raid. The Federals found abundant Apple Brandy, or “Applejack,” in houses all along the route. Many Union soldiers got completely drunk, and some behaved very badly as a result. Around this time Warren learned that Confederate infantry was on its way. He was also worried that bad weather might trap him well south of the Union lines with the Nottoway River as a major obstacle. These pieces of information combined with the fact that his infantry had accomplished the main goal of the operation led him to the decision to reverse direction the following morning. The potential of winter weather was not an idle worry for Warren. The temperature plummeted as evening wore on, and sleet fell all night long. The Union soldiers who had tossed their overcoats carelessly aside early in this march would suffer greatly on the return trip. The Confederates, many of them barefoot, would have an even tougher time of it.” [Source: The Siege of Petersburg Online.]
January 16th 1865
Yours of the 1st inst. I received five days ago just as I was starting out on picket and have not had an opportunity to write sooner. The weather here is very changeable—cold enough today to freeze you, and warm as summer tomorrow.
I have nothing this time of importance to write about. The usual amount of picket and camp duty has not been varied for some time. The roads are almost impassable except for horsemen.
You ask if I had a Christmas dinner. I answer most emphatically, yes, and ate it with a keen relish, sitting on my horse in an orchard on picket. My dinner consisted of hard tack and raw pork, but the ghosts of former Christmas dinners and the remembrance of kind friends I enjoyed them with brought to my memory anything but pleasant reflection.
You say Wm. Hopping is about to volunteer again. If he can get some position that will pay, it will be very well.
I wish you would get some good boot maker to make a pair of boots from calf that will fit you with an insole inside, and extra taps, the legs good length. Have them by the first of Feruary, if possible. Your boots are plenty large for me. I want them in good taste and durable. I may come for them myself or I may send for them. Government boots are worthless and sutlers have an article they charge from $15 to most any price that will last about one month. As my duty is performed almost entirely in the saddle, I don’t want a very heavy boot.
Furloughs are given to some particular ones and I may get one if I can bring the proper influences. Tell Caty I will write to her soon. How does Father and Mother stand this cold winter? I hope as well as former ones. Remember me to them and to all the family and friends.
Yours truly, — D. H. Hopping