This letter was written by George Eugene Graves (1823-1900)—a tailor by profession—who was living in Franklinville, Cattaraugus county, New York, when he enlisted as a musician on 12 August 1862 in Co. D, 154th New York Infantry. The regiment first served in the 11th Corps of the Army of the Potomac but in October 1863 were transferred to the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division of the 20th Corps in the Army of the Cumberland. George’s military record indicates that he was with his regiment at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, while serving the Army of the Potomac and then with Sherman as they marched and fought through Tennessee, Georgia, South and North Carolina. George was mustered out of the service on 11 June 1865 at Bladensburg, Maryland.
He was married twice. His first wife was Helen Jones (1827-185x) whom he married in September 1844; his second wife was Celia Cooley Smith whom he married in July 1865.
Graves wrote the letter to Louise (Jones) Wadsworth (1824-Aft1910), the wife of Henry Truman Wadsworth (1813-1910) of Springville, Erie county, New York. Louisa was born in Otsego county, New York, which is where George was also born.
Addressed to Mrs. Lowesa Wadsworth, Springville, Erie county, New York
Postmarked Nashville, Tennessee
In Camp near Atlanta, Ga.
August 15th 1864
It has been a long time since I have heard anything from you. I thought I would drop you a few lines to let you know that I was among the living.
This has been a very hard summer’s campaign. We started from Lookout [Mountain] the 4th of May and there has not been a day of that time but there has been hard fighting or heavy skirmishing. But the Lord has been on the side of the Union troops. They have driven the enemy before them like the wind. We have come to a stand here for they have Atlanta strongly fortified. I can see at least 5 or 6 forts from an open field close to General Geary’s Headquarters—not more than 2½ miles from the city. What I can see of the city, I should think it to be a very nice place indeed. But it must be injured very much by this time for our Batteries have kept up a constant fire ever since we have been here. ¹
I saw a beautiful sight night before last. There has been one gun throwing a shell every 5 minutes into the city ever since we have been here night and day but night before last there was a regular fire from at least 30 guns all firing into the city. They soon set the city on fire. It was a beautiful sight to see the shells bursting over and around the city. We could hear the cry of fire and the bells ring and dogs bark. It must have been an interesting time. I think they will destroy the city entirely in a few days. ²
There is heavy firing on our right. They are fighting for the Macon Railroad. We took a fort and six guns that command that road a few days ago but the rebs have their forces massed there and it is a going to be a job to get it. But there is no help for them. They have got to give up everything for our boys are bound to whip. It [is] astonishing to see the strong works that we have driven them from. It seemed as though they could [hold] them against the world. But you see Old Jo Hooker and Sherman was a little to much for Old Johnston. He kept his army together until he got them to Atlanta and then stepped out and General Hood is trying his hand.
There was a rebel prisoner said the other day that if Johnston had kept in command, he would [have] saved the army and Atlanta too for he would’ve stopped there. But Hood was a going to lose both. We have lost our General Jo Hooker and the boys say it was like losing a father. The 20th Corps has done as hard fighting as any troops in the field. They have fought themselves pretty much all away.
The weather is very warm here this month. I have only one year more to stay in and if I live, I shall come and see you all. You must write often. Give my regards to Henry and Mother Jones and to the children. So I will close by bidding you goodbye for this time. Please answer this and oblige yours friend, — G. E. Graves
¹ There was a Signal Corps tower near General John White Geary’s headquarters that Graves most likely used to make these observations. Capt. W. W. Hopkins was the Signal Corps Officer posted at this location on 15 August 1864.
² Sadly, Graves account of the burning of Atlanta seems oblivious to the human suffering being inflicted upon the resident population remaining in the city. A report by Col. I. M. Kirby of the 4th Army Corps written at midnight on 12 August 1864 claimed that “there is now quite a fire burning in the town.” He added that they “could distinctly hear loud cries from women and children, as if praying, &c.”