Hailing from Cherry Valley, Massachusetts, Jerome Bottomly (1842-1912), enlisted for a three-year term in September 1861 as an artificer in the 1st Battalion, United States Engineers, Co. “C”. The 1st Battalion, which constructed roads and bridges to keep the Union Army of the Potomac moving (they built six bridges across the Rappahanoock River at Fredericksburg), saw action in the Peninsular Campaign and at the battles of Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, and the Siege of Petersburg. The battalion, which bore arms and sometimes used them, was also trained as infantry. Bottomly’s service ended in 1864.
In the first letter Jerome describes the assault on Marye’s Heights above Fredericksburg on 3 May 1863 by Union Gen. John Sedgwick’s men. Charging with fixed bayonets over the same field as was previously done during the Battle of Fredericksburg, Sedgwick’s men overran the lightly defended stone wall on Marye’s Heights held by 2 Mississippi regiments commanded by Gen. Barksdale. Sedgwick’s men moved on toward Chancellorsville in an attempt to attack Lee’s army from behind but Lee turned them back in the Battle of Salem Church.
In the second letter, Jerome describes laying down a pontoon bridge over the Rappahannock River near Rappahanock Station and a subsequent cavalry fight [Third Brandy Station on 1 August 1863].
Jerome was the son of Samuel Bottomly (1792-Aft1850) and Abigail E. _____ (1799-1873) of Leicester, Worcester County, Massachusetts.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Addressed to Mrs. Samuel Bottomly, Cherry Valley, Massachusetts
Near Falmouth, Va.
May 7th 1863
Since I wrote before there has been exciting times here. Last Sunday [3 May 1863] we had to take our bridge apart and row it up the river about a mile to Fredericksburg and then put it across there. All the time we were at work there was a good deal of fighting about half a mile from us. After we had the bridges down, our troops charged on the batteries back of the city and took them. This was in sight from the bank of the river though I did not see the charge as I was on the bridge. But about an hour after, I went over to the battery. This is the place where so many of our men were killed [during the Battle of Fredericksburg] under Burnside. The rebels stood behind a stone wall. This wall has been named St. Mary’s Wall [Marye’s Heights]. When I got over there, nearly all our wounded had been taken away. There was about forty of our men killed here and about twenty-five rebels.
Our troops went so far over the heights that the rebels came in between them and the river so Monday night we had to swing our bridge around in shore and Tuesday morning take it up. We did not get into camp till last night. Tuesday night it rained hard so we had rather a disagreeable time. All that was gained here in the centre is lost. What Hooker has done on the right, I do not know, but he has been fighting for seven or eight days and must have lost a great many men. You can find out from the papers more than I can tell you.
There has been no papers sold here since this move began. I received the paper with the envelopes. tell Cornelia I received her letter.
There was someone inquiring for me Tuesday down to the river from the 15th. I think it was Henry Carpenter. Were I shall be a week from now is more than I can tell. If Hooker should come back to his old position, he would have to resign or be relieved. I think very likely we will leave this place and perhaps go up the river to where he is now. I will write again soon. — Jerome
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Addressed to Mr. Samuel Bottomly, Cherry Valley, Massachusetts
Near Rappahannock Station
August 7th 1863
I received your letter day before yesterday. Was glad to hear your examination passed off well.
It has been very hot here for a week past — hot as it could be, I believe. Since I wrote last, we have not marched much — only from Warrenton which we did in one afternoon. We threw a bridge across the river last Saturday morning [1 August 1863]. The papers say there was some opposition but there was none. There was a few cavalry pickets in sight but they left as soon as we rowed across. We got the boats down to the river Friday night [31 July 1863] and early Saturday morning, “C” Company went to the river and rowed some dismounted cavalry over. I was in one of the boat parties.
The cavalry advanced about a mile and waited until we had the bridge finished when Gen. Buford crossed with his cavalry and artillery and in the afternoon [1 August 1863] there was quite a fight. The river is only 160 feet wide here. It was nearly three times as wide at Falmouth. Here it takes eight pontoons and there it took twenty-one.
Company “B” and part of “D” built a bridge at Kelley’s Ford five miles below here. I think we may lay here for several weeks. We are camped in a very pretty place. It is close to the ruins of a house that was burned last year. There is a nice grove of locust trees but the best thing in this country is the spring. There is no other camp in sight and no houses. There is only two companies and a half of us. [Lt. Andrew Jackson] Crossley [1839-1888] came from Washington the 1st of this month. He was having a good time while we were marching all over the country. He is trying to get a furlough. Our officers are doing what they can to get it for him and I think he may get one.
Blueberries are not very thick now and there is nothing eatable here. I wish I could get some of the green corn I had last year. Pork and hard tack is about all we get and no great amount of that. We expect to be paid off today. — Jerome
I get the papers that are sent and I am very glad of them.