Letter from 2nd Lieutenant Luther Rice Mills of the 26th Virginia Volunteer Infantry
Trenches Near Crater
March 2nd, 1865
Something is about to happen. I know not what. Nearly everyone who will express an opinion says Gen’l Lee is about to evacuate Petersburg. The authorities are having all the cotton and tobacco moved out of the place as rapidly as possible. This was commenced about the 22nd of February. Two thirds of the Artillery of our Division has been moved out. The Reserved Ordnance Train has been loaded up and is ready to move at any time. I think Gen’l Lee expects a hard fight on the right and has ordered all this simply as a precautionary measure. Since my visit to the right I have changed my opinion about the necessity for the evacuation of Petersburg. If it is evacuated Johnson’s Division will be in a bad situation for getting out. Unless we are so fortunate as to give the Yankees the slip many of us will be captured. I would regret very much to have to give up the old place. The soiled and tattered Colors borne by our skeleton Regiments is sacred and dear to the hearts of every man. No one would exchange it for a new flag. So it is with us. I go down the lines, I see the marks of shot and shell, I see where fell my comrades, the Crater, the grave of fifteen hundred Yankees, when I go to the rear I see little mounds of dirt, some with headboards, some with none, some with shoes protruding, some with a small pile of bones on one side near the end showing where a hand was left uncovered, in fact everything near shows desperate fighting. And here I would rather “fight it out.” If Petersburg and Richmond (are) evacuated–from what I have seen and heard in this army–our cause will be hopeless. It is useless to conceal the truth any longer. Many of our people at home have become so demoralized that they write to their husbands, sons and brothers that desertion now is not dishonorable. It would be impossible to keep the army from straggling to a ruinous extent if we evacuate.
I have just received an order from Wise to carry out on picket tonight a rifle and ten rounds of cartridges to shoot men when they desert. The men seem to think desertion no crime and hence never shoot a deserter when he goes over–they always shoot, but never hit. I am glad to say that we have not had but four desertions from our Regiment to the enemy… Write soon.
Source: Tapert, Annette (ed.), The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 229-30