Letter from Levi J. Fritz, Company “A”, 53rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, which he addressed to the Montgomery Ledger in Montgomery County, and was printed in the April 22, 1862 edition. Thanks to Rick Sauers for transcribing and submitting Fritz’ letter.
Messrs. Editors:- This is Sunday, but at the present writing to us it differs in no particular from any other day. While in Camp California all drills were suspended on the Sabbath, divine services were held, and the day seemed, in some respects at least, like a day of rest. But since we have been on the march, we have nothing to remind us that one day out of the seven has been set aside for holy purposes; even the chaplains appear to be moving along in every day routine, for they keep mum.
We landed at this point on Sunday last, that is all the brigade, except eight companies of our regiment, that were on board the Robert Morris, that boat not coming up until the following day. There is no wharf here. The boats were run as near shore as possible while the tide was up, and we waited five or six hours for the low water, when we waded ashore. The vessels conveying our brigade were the Daniel Webster, having on board General French and his staff, 52d N.Y., and A and F companies of the 53d Penna. The 57th N.Y. on board the Nantucket, the 66th N.Y. on the Sally Jones and Ariel, 8 companies of our regiment on the Robert Morris, and the battery on board the Erie. Each of the steamboats had in tow two schooners containing companies of the 6th Pa. Cavalry. We were the first brigade that landed at this Point, which is distant from Fortress Monroe about fifteen miles. It was near twilight before we all disembarked. We marched a short distance from the shore, halted, stacked our arms, built fires, cooked coffee, eat supper, spread blankets, and bunked in for the night. The next morning the Robert Morris arrived, and the balance of our regiment came ashore, and the 53d was once more all in line. We understand they had a very pleasant trip on board the “Bobby Morris”. At ten o’clock the brigade was marched about half a mile inland and put into camp. We were lucky enough to be placed on the edge of a pine wood, and it was not long after we were dismissed ere we had shanties built out of pines and copse. They were put up just in time, for by sunset a rainstorm set in which lasted two days. Of course our insufficient shelter of twigs and grass would not keep out the rain after such a long assault of the watery elements, and many of the boys on getting awake in the morning found themselves lying in water several inches deep. But we were not so bad off as other regiments in our brigade. The 66th N.Y. were encamped in a cornfield, and they had scarcely any shelter. We had wood at our doors, and large fires were kept burning, around which we crowded, and thus managed to keep warm and comparatively dry. For the last few days it has been very pleasant. At noon it is quite too warm to sit in the sunshine, but the nights are cold ? owing to the close proximity to the Bay. We are furnished with a sufficiency of rations, consisting of hard bread, salt pork, occasionally ham, beans, rice, coffee, sugar, salt and vinegar. We draw no fresh meat or soft bread. The commissariat is evidently managed in a superior manner.
Shipping Point battery consists of earthworks, running along the river beach, for perhaps half a mile. The works were evidently built under the supervision of a competent military engineer, and are better constructed than any we saw at Manassas. There is but three places where guns could be put in position, and the rebels never had more than one mounted, but field artillery could be used effectually behind the breastworks. The position of the battery is no doubt a fine one. It gave the rebels complete command of York river at its mouth, as well as a wide sweep for their guns in the bay.
The inland approaches to the battery are protected by low earthworks, ditched on the outside, a fact that appears to show Gen. Pillow had nothing to do with it. Within the fortifications are well-built huts, ample enough to accommodate 5000 men. The rebels fell back from this position to Yorktown, ten miles up the York river. The rebels are there, rumor says, 60,000 strong. McClellan is here and our forces have already besieged the place, we have been exchanging shots every day. We have more 100,000 men here, and thousands are arriving daily. We have not less than one hundred pieces of artillery. Ere you receive this letter one of the grandest battles of the war may have taken place. Berdan’s Sharpshooters have for the past few days been distinguishing themselves. They crawl up to within a good range of the rebel batteries and pick off the gunners as fast as they show themselves, and they are unerring marksmen their shots tell. Day before yesterday they succeeded in completely silencing a rebel battery. We expect the ball to open in warmth in a few days. Here Washington gained a victory that made the Republic, with the sufiles of heaven on our side, here will McClellan gain a victory that will prove beyond peradventure that the Republic is preserved.
Since our brigade landed here we presume 40,000 soldiers have been shipped to this place and thousands arriving every day. For miles around it is one dense camp of infantry and cavalry, the artillery as soon as landed is taken to the front. In the evening at reveille for more than an hour there is a continuous roll of drums, blasts of bugles, and sweet music from numerous bands.
This is a very pleasant place for a camp. The river is full of inlets and coves in which there are numerous oyster beds. When the tide is down they can be gathered along the beach. They are the finest oysters we have ever seen. We have seen several which weighed half a pound. Years ago when we sang a then popular melody called “Old Virginia Shore” we little thought that we would ever be “working among the oyster beds, to us it was but play”. But so it is: we are ransacking the oyster beds around here in high old style. As we close this letter there is heavy firing heard in the direction of Fortress Monroe. The Merrimac has perhaps came down the James river, to pester our shipping in Hampton Roads. There has been no firing towards Yorktown to-day up to the hour we cease writing, 12 o’clock A.M.