Category Archives: Soldiers and Sailors

From Frank Phelps, 10th Wisconsin

Letter from Sergeant Frank Phelps of the 10th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry

Camp at Chattanooga, Tenn.

December 2, 1863

Wisconsin State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

MY DEAR FRIENDS:

Again has the army of the Cumberland with Hooker’s and Grant’s brave boys routed and scattered Bragg’s Army while yet exulting over their dear bought victory, if you call it that, of Chickamauga. You have ere this seen detailed accounts of the fight, but yet it may be interesting to know what I saw and did in the fight though the latter part was very small.

I will commence away back to the first signs we got of an advance movement. On the 19th of last month we had orders for each man to have 100 rounds of ammunition. The usual amount we have to carry is only 40 rounds, so we knew something was up. The next day, we had orders to go on picket with two days’ rations. Well, we went out, when it commenced to rain and rained almost every hour we were out.

While we were on the lines, we were not very far apart, only a little creek between us. The rebs were very friendly, coming down on the bank to trade papers, canteens or anything they could get. I had a New York Tribune, which I exchanged for an Augusta paper. The next day I exchanged a Wis. State Journal for the Richmond News. They wanted to get playing cards the most. One fellow offered me Greenbacks or gold if I would get him some. He said they had to pay $12 per pack for them and they were good for nothing.

We were on two days, and at the station where we were, 27 rebels deserted and came over. We were relieved on the morning of the 22nd. That afternoon we received orders to be ready to move at 6 a.m. on the 23rd. We got ready and then the order was countermanded. We were not to leave camp, but to hold ourselves ready to move at a moment’s notice. At noon, we were ordered to move out into the rifle pits. The position of our brigade and division is on the extreme right, and we expected that we were going to make for Lookout Mountain, or that there would be a general advance. At one o’clock, our heavy guns from Fort Wood and all along the lines opened on the enemy.

Soon we heard skirmishing on the left. Then we understood the movement. After some heavy firing, our forces drove the rebels from their rifle pits. When we stopped for the night, we were not allowed to leave the works as the rebels might make a movement on our right. During the night, we were moved up to support a battery of 20-pound Parrotts. Just before daylight, we were ordered to leave half of the regiment there (which was only 30 men) and take the rest down to Louis battery. The rest of the brigade had moved out to the front.

The next morning we expected to have a fight, but it was still all along the lines. At 10 o’clock, there was some firing away off in Lookout Valley where Hooker had his camps. Pretty soon the firing became more general and the first thing we saw was our men charging up Lookout Mountain. It commenced to rain about noon and it was so foggy we could not see very well. At dark, we held the mountain. Our brigade had driven the rebels on this side and joined Hooker. We expected to go out and join the brigade during the night, but they could get no horses for the battery, so we had to stay.

The next morning was clear, but awful cold. The rebs had left Lookout Mountain and our forces had gone over through the valley toward Missionary Ridge. Hooker had got to Rossville, which place we made our stand on Monday. Left here is a large gap or pass between the two ridges. From this place Hooker could come up in the rear of the rebels on Mission Ridge. Sherman with Grant’s Western boys had gone up the river to where Chickamauga Creek empties into the river and crossed over, bagging about 100 rebs that were making rafts to float down the river to break our pontoon bridges. Here we took possession of a large knob on the north end of Mission Ridge, while Maj. Gen. Howard with the 11th Corps opened communications with Sherman from this way…

Soon I could see our line advance. Our brigade held the right, forward they went, but the hill was steep and high and the rebels were packed in their rifle pits. Our men come up within range when they fire and charge up with the bayonet. The rebels either retreat or surrender. After charging the rebels out of five lines of rifle pits, we reach the top of the hill and, almost at the same time, the batteries of the rebels stop firing. They have been firing on Sherman and Thomas as fast as guns could be worked. A cheer reaches us, and on the double quick do our men face towards Sherman and go to his relief.

The rebel center is broken. We have got all of their heavy guns and hold possession of all the ridge except where the railroad goes through. There the rebels have massed the remainder of their army. From that point they can rake the whole ridge with grape and canister. We can see 20 different guns open almost at the same instant. Guns that had been firing towards Sherman all the forenoon are now firing in the opposite direction. The roar of musketry and artillery is heavier than before; a huge column of smoke rises away over to our right. The rebels are burning their stores. Hooker is working there. Night comes on and the rebels hold their position on Tunnel Hill. Sherman had been repulsed three times, but the fourth time he was victorious and the rebels had to leave.

That night, all was still. Bragg’s Army had been defeated and driven from every position. Chickamauga had been avenged. That night our forces bivouacked in the rebel camp. The next morning our forces were in pursuit of the retreating rebels. At Ringold, Bragg tried to make another stand. He had chosen a good position, but our column, which went on our old road from Bridgeport, over the mountain to Trenton, came up in his rear, and joined onto Hooker. He was soon driven from there. Here our army had to stop on account of supplies. During the night our brigade started back and reached here the next afternoon. Bragg lost all of his artillery and about 15,000 prisoners. This is the first fight down in this section of the country that the old 10th was not in the front ranks. Our brigade was there and we would have been if we had officers, but one regiment had to be left back, and we were that lucky regiment…

Yours as ever,

FRANK W. PHELPS

—–

Source:

Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: First Vintage Books, 1988), p. 180-83

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From Henry Curtis, 37th Illinois

Letter from Lieutenant Henry Curtis of the 37th Illinois Volunteer Infantry (also staff officer to Brigadier General Julius White)

Knoxville, Tennessee

November 21, 1863

Illinois State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

Being a rainy day and nothing doing, I will write you, though when this will get through is very problematical. On the night of the 13th, we got word that the enemy were building a pontoon bridge six miles below us. I took 25 cavalry and made for it, leaving orders for a regiment section of artillery to follow.

It was very dark and there was but one road down the point, at the extremity of which the bridge was and the woods each side were impassable with undergrowth. I expected a vigorous opposition and never hated a job worse in my life. However, by scientific maneuvering, I got to within 250 yards of the bridge and to within 50 yards of a heavy picket without firing.

Sent for the infantry to come out, but they had been ordered back–could get no further than I was, as the road was a narrow lane. I waited until near daylight and fell back. Reported I could get no more men. I went down again with 30 men, about halfway, the rebels being advanced. Took a position in an old church and held it with some occasional firing. (Brigadier General Julius) White wanted me to go on, but I sent him word that I could not without more men. Burnside had now got to our position (where the brigade was). I had sent a small regiment of cavalry to my aid. They were scared and stayed some four miles back. Burnside sent me orders to go on. Of course I went with what I had, though I had told White and him a dozen times I could do nothing but should get whipped and surrounded. Charged up a big hill in front, got the fire of about 200 men and got well whipped in a very few moments. Drew back and had just formed a line when about 100 rebels opened on my rear from the only road to get off by. They were right on us, and the chance looked bad. Only one side was open and they were making for that. Away we went over fences and through brush on the full run and bullets flying thick enough. Got out at last, losing three killed, some half dozen wounded and as many horses. Lost about six prisoners, their horses being shot and they caught.

White was coming up with the brigade, but I did not know it, I could only get back by circling round some 15 miles at Lenoir, a town six miles from our camp.

Camped for the night, it being dark, and the next morning went after the brigade. Burnside had gone on the evening before with the 9th A.C. and our brigade and driven the rebels nearly to the bridgehead. I found them on the retreat again, it not appearing advisable for him to go on. We lost some 100 men or more driving them in. Hope B. got it satisfactorily into his head, that 20 cavalry couldn’t go to the bridge!

The bridge is precisely where I told the chief of engineers it would be, but he, being a West Point man, of course would not admit I would know anything! We fell back to Lenoir that night, and I went into line. Only one small brush in the night and we killed a couple of rebels…

Our brigade (one being away) took the advance at 3:00 a.m. At 12:00 p.m., we went into line at Campbell’s Station, 15 miles from Knoxville. The 9th A.C. was not fighting heavily. We were to let it pass and check the rebels. They came down thick, but we broke from lines and held them until dark. Fell back a mile, our brigade holding the enemy and coming off splendidly. General B. said he never saw troops behave so well on a field of battle.

At dark, started for this place, our brigade in rear, arrived next morning and are now in position and fortifying. Got no hits myself. One shell hit right beside my horse and two shrapnel burst right in my face but never a scratch did I get. We’re now on the defensive here–enemy are very slow and I think can’t take us in; if they do you’ll not see this. We fire occasionally and so do they. We have enough food for present purposes and are in good health.

Was pretty well worn out when I got here, having no sleep, nothing to eat, and being in the saddle day and night from the start some 24 hours longer than most of the others. Am now quite recuperated. November 29th–still besieged. The rebels made assaults early this morning but were repulsed. We took some 300 prisoners. December 4th, reinforcements arrived at last.

—–

Source:
Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: First Vintage Books, 1988), p. 177-80

From William Nugent, 28th Mississippi Cavalry

Letter from Captain William Nugent of the 28th Mississippi Cavalry to his wife

Hd. Qrs. Cavalry Brigade

Tupelo, Miss.

September 7, 1863

Mississippi State Flag | Image Credit: AllFlagsWorld.com

MY DARLING WIFE,

The hour of your trial is approaching and I feel very very uneasy on your account. I hope and trust in the Giver of all good, though the thought that you are so far away, so near the enemy’s lines and surrounded by so many dangers makes me feel quite blue at times: and were it not for the elasticity of mind and heart which characterizes me, I should have long since grown utterly despondent.

War is fast becoming the thing natural, tho’ abhorrent to my feelings. I got at it just as I used to go at law-suits. Still I am not by any manner of means fond of the profession. The idea of being continually employed in the destruction of human life is revolting in the extreme. Necessity imperious and exacting, forces us along and we hurry through the dreadful task apparently unconscious of its demoralizing influences and destructive effects both upon the nation and individuals. I wish Uncl. Saml. would recognize his nephew and give us peace. I do not desire a reconstruction and a hollow truce, a servile place in the family of nations and to eat the bread of dependence while I am denied all the privileges of a freeman. The Yankees say that when we are conquered they cannot afford to let us have the right of trial by jury, because they say a “secesh” jury would clear us all, neither can we have our own judges or exercise the elective franchise. This is the doctrine held by their main supporters and is the one which will be practiced by them if they are successful. And yet our weak-minded friends are willing to lick the hand that would smite them and pay court to the hardhearted minions of abolitionism. I own no slaves and can freely express my notions without being taxed with any motive of self interest. I know that this country without slave labor would be wholly worthless, a barren waste and desolate plain–we can only live and exist by this species of labor: and hence I am willing to continue the fight to the last. If we have to succumb we must do it bravely fighting for our rights; and the remnant must migrate. If the worst comes, we must go over to England or France, and become Colonies again. Never will I be content to submit to Yankee rule. The Russian yoke would be preferable. The close fisted Yankees would filch our pockets at every turn–France I would prefer. Her policy is more enlightened than that of England and she would give us the rights and privileges of freemen. It would be her policy and doubtless when her affairs are straightened in Mexico, she will recognize the importance of a more decided policy in American affairs.

I hope the enemy now discovers that the possession of the River is a barren victory. Their Western produce finds no market and the foreign demand will not be very large or extensive either at New Orleans. Their commerce is fettered by childish restrictions and the Southern privateers keep them uneasy. Cotton cannot be found and flour and bacon is not a commodity of much exchangeable value. A few men, in authority, may make fortunes; but the poor man who brings his flat load of corn and potatoes expecting to return with a pocket full of money will be utterly mistaken. The Yankees won’t see this until too late to remedy the evil. They are not far-seeing enough. If they only had the negroes at work on the plantations under their masters, they would have realized some beneficial results.

We are now camped at a place memorable in this war, and whose name will live in history. We are occupying Genl. Bragg’s old Hd. Qrs. and have a cozy time of it–and if the enemy don’t disturb us soon we will be quite comfortably fixed…

Old Pillow is conscripting every man in the whole country. He is no respecter of persons. There is in consequence a terrific quaking among the noncombatants and substitute men. Judge Handy has just decided that the principal is liable unless his substitute is over 45 yrs. of age; and is in any event liable for militia duty. This will make the nice young gentlemen quake in their shoes, and force them to “come to the centre.”

My health continues good–I am endeavoring to get Clarence promoted so that he can come up here and be with me, and, I think I will succeed in due course of time. The Company is, I am sorry to have to say, going to pieces, numbering now only some twenty-nine men for duty.

Give my love and kisses to all. Do the best you can, and ever remember that you are supreme in my affections. May God Almighty bless, comfort, protect and preserve you is the prayer of

Your devoted husband,

WILL

—–

Source:

Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: First Vintage Books, 1988), p. 175-77

From Spencer G. Welch, 13th South Carolina

Letter from Dr. Spencer Glasgow Welch, a surgeon with the 13th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry

Camp near Orange Court House, Virginia

August 2, 1863

The South Carolina Flag | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

DEAREST:

In a recent letter I promised to write you more about our campaign in Pennsylvania.

On the night of the 29th of June, we camped on the west side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where they extend into Pennsylvania. On the morning of the next day (30th), we renewed our march. Shortly after starting, it began raining, but the road was hard and well macadamized and the rain made the march rather agreeable than otherwise.

On this same morning, we passed where a splendid iron factory had been burned by General Early, of Ewell’s Corps. It belonged to a very celebrated lawyer and politician of Pennsylvania by the name of Thaddeus Stevens, who is noted for his extreme abolition views and his intense hatred for slave-holders. The works are said to have been worth more than $100,000. The burning had thrown a great many operatives out of employment, and they seemed to be much distressed.

During the day we wended our way up the mountains… In the afternoon about one or two o’clock we halted and bivouacked among the mountains. Our stopping-place was in a basin of the mountains which was very fertile and contained a few very excellent and highly cultivated farms. A while after we stopped, I started off to one of these farmhouses for the purpose of getting my dinner, as I was quite hungry and wanted something different from what I had been accustomed…

Upon returning to camp, I found that an order had been received during my absence to cook one day’s rations and have it in haversacks and be ready to march at five o’clock next morning. This at once aroused our suspicions, for we concluded that we were about to meet the enemy. Next morning about five o’clock we began moving. We had not gone more than a mile and a half before our suspicions of the evening previous were fully verified and our expectations realized by the booming of cannon ahead of us in the direction of Gettysburg. Upon looking around, I at once noticed in the countenance of all an expression of intense seriousness and solemnity, which I have always perceived in the faces of men who are about to face death and the awful shock of battle…

It was really a magnificent sight. The country was almost destitute of forest and was so open that it was easy to see all that was going on. Our division (Pender’s) continued to keep within about half a mile of Heth’s. McGowan’s Brigade was at the right of the division and the 13th Regiment was at the right of the brigade. This being the case, I could see from one end of the division to the other as it moved forward in line of battle. It was nearly a mile in length…

Officers who have been in all the fights tell me that they never saw our brigade act so gallantly before. When the order was given to charge upon the enemy, who were lying behind stone fences and other places of concealment, our men rushed forward with a perfect fury, yelling and driving them, though with great slaughter to themselves as well as to the Yankees. Most of the casualties of our brigade occurred this day (July 1). As the enemy were concealed, they killed a great many of our men before we could get at them.

There were a good many dwellings in our path, to which the Yankees would also resort for protection, and they would shoot from the doors and windows. As soon as our troops would drive them out, they would rush in, turn out the families and set the houses on fire. I think this was wrong, because the families could not prevent the Yankees seeking shelter in their houses. I saw some of the poor women who had been thus treated. They were greatly distressed, and it excited my sympathy very much. These people would have left their houses, but the battle came on so unexpectedly to them, as is often the case, that they had not time…

The fighting on the first day ceased about night, and when our brigade was relieved by Lane’s North Carolina Brigade, it was nearly dark… When they drove the Yankees to the long high range of hills, which the Yankees held throughout the fight, they should have been immediately reinforced by Anderson with his fresh troops. Then the strong position last occupied by the enemy could have been taken, and the next day, when Ewell and Longstreet came up, the victory completely won. If “Old Stonewall” had been alive and there, it no doubt would have been done. Hill was a good division commander, but he is not a superior corps commander. He lacks the mind and sagacity of Jackson…

On the second day of the battle, the fighting did not begin until about twelve or one o’clock, from which time until night it raged with great fury. The reason it began so late in the day was because it required some time for Ewell and Longstreet to get their forces in position.

On the third day, the fighting began early in the morning and continued with the greatest imaginable fury all day; at one time, about three o’clock in the afternoon, with such a cannonading I never heard before. About 150 pieces of cannon on our side and as many or more on the side of the enemy kept up for several hours. It was truly terrifying and was like heavy skirmishing in the rapidity with which the volleys succeeded one another. The roar of the artillery, the rattle of the musketry and the wild terrific scream of the shells as they whizzed through the air was really the most appalling situation that could possibly be produced. Our troops (Pickett’s Division) charged the enemy’s strong position, which they had now entrenched, but with no avail, although we slaughtered thousands of them.

On the night of the 3rd, General Lee withdrew the army nearly to its original position, hoping, I suppose, that the enemy would attack him; but they didn’t come out of their strongholds, for well they knew what their fate would be if they met the Confederate Army of Virginia upon equal grounds. On the 4th, our army remained in line of battle, earnestly desiring the advance of the Yankees, but they did not come. During this day the rain fell in torrents, completely drenching the troops…

On July 5, we recrossed the Blue Ridge Mountains. Climbing the mountains was very tedious after so much toil, excitement and loss of sleep, but we met with no obstacle until we came to Hagerstown, Md., where we stopped on account of the Potomac’s being too high to ford. While here, the Yankees came up. Our army was placed in line to meet them, but they did not dare to attack. In this situation we remained for several days with them in sight of us.

After a pontoon bridge was finished at Falling Waters and the river was sufficiently down to ford at Williamsport, we left the vicinity of Hagerstown. It was just after dark when we began leaving. It was a desperately dark night and such a rain I thought I never knew to fall… It appeared to me that at least half of the road was a quagmire, coming in places nearly to the knees…

Being very tired, we all lay down and nearly everyone fell asleep. Suddenly the Yankee cavalry rushed upon us, firing and yelling at a furious rate. None of our guns were loaded and they were also in a bad fix from the wet of the previous night. They attacked General Pettigrew’s North Carolina Brigade first. Our brigade was lying down 50 yards behind his. I was lying down between the two brigades near a spring. General Pettigrew was killed here. I was close to him when he was killed. It was a serious loss to the service. We fought them for some time. Then General Hill sent an order to fall back across the river, and it was done in good order.

The attack was a complete surprise, and is disgraceful either to General Hill or General Heth. One is certainly to blame. The Yankees threw shells at the bridge and came very near hitting it just as I was about to cross; but, after we were close enough to the river not to be hurt by our own shells, our cannon on this side opened upon them, which soon made them “skedaddle” away.

—–

Source: Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 169-75

 

From Edwin Fay, Minden Rangers

Letter from Sergeant Edwin Fay of the Minden Rangers

Camp 4 miles in rear Mechanicsburg

July 10, 1863

Mississippi State Flag | Image Credit: AllFlagsWorld.com

MY OWN DEAR WIFE:

I wrote you a long letter yesterday but on sober reflection last night while all the Camps were wrapped in sleep I concluded that it was too wicked to send you and I have concluded this morning to write again. I have little indeed to write as news is scarce in this part of the Country. Vicksburg as you will already have heard has been surrendered to the enemy and 17,500 brave Southern men have laid down their arms and given up the stronghold, the key of the Confederacy. It is almost impossible to tell the consequences but if Grant is wise Port Hudson will fall in less than a week and then Mobile, Selma, Montgomery, Atlanta, Augusta, Charleston. There is one escape and I am almost in hopes that Grant will pursue Johnston to Jackson as we learned yesterday that they were skirmishing at Clinton halfway between Jackson and Vicksburg. If we can keep them from Port Hudson till we can get there we may prevent such a series of disasters. God only knows what will be the fate of the Confederacy. I believe that as a power of the Earth it is conquered, but do not near believe the people are subjugated. I have little hope for the future.

But as an offset we hear of the total discomfiture of the Yankee Army in Maryland 12 miles from Baltimore at the Relay House some 30 miles north of Washington, having killed 4 Brig Gen’ls and severely wounded Col. Mead, the successor of Hooker in command of the largest army on the Planet. Washington will doubtless be captured. Such being the case I have a faint hope that a compromise of some kind will be effected which may result in Peace. This is a faint hope but drowning men will catch at straws, you know. The Yankee troops were told that when Vicksburg was taken they would be paid off, discharged, and go home, that peace would be made at once. Poor deluded, miserable wretches to believe a lie. How many thousands of their bones will bleach beneath a Southern sun ere they will see the dawn of peace. If Johnston whips Grant, as he will if he can fight him outside his entrenchments, the Yankee glory will be shortlived. God grant that he may get the opportunity.

Johnston was moving to relieve Pemberton and the time of the attack was to have been July 7th and Pemberton surrendered on the 4th, alleging starvation as the cause. The 10th was agreed upon and the blame rests on Pemberton. Thus we have suffered from Southern men of Northern birth. New Orleans, Vicksburg, and the Confederacy all gone unless by a direct interposition of Providence. We hear that New Orleans is in our hands but it won’t be long if Grant moves down the River. But a truce to War Matters, though a word more. I very much fear you will be visited by the Vandals before long, for I know there is a lack of ammunition on the west side of the river and if so you may look for me home. I may come anyhow. I can’t tell you, you need not be surprised to see me at almost any time. I feel sad to think that all my sufferings and toils are all lost to the Country all in vain. My first allegiance is to my family, my second to my Country.

Mr. Minchew came last Friday but he brought me no letter from you. Others had received letters from Minden by mail since Caufield’s return there, some as late as 19th but none for me and you can imagine how I felt. Tuesday I got yours of the 16th inst. and you don’t know how rejoiced I was to get it, but at the same time I thought it was very tame and cool considering I had not had a letter for nearly two months…

If some terms of accommodation are not come to between the contending powers, this will be a war of extermination. I cannot keep from the War Theme, my pen is like Anacreon’s lyre only its strains instead of those of Cupid belong rather to Mars bristling with his helmet and shield. I wish you to keep that pistol loaded and capped and if the Yankees come to Minden to wear it on your person, never be without it and the first one that dares insult you blow his brains out. This you must do or you are not the woman I married…

The report has just come in that Bragg has fallen back to the Tenn. River, Rosecrans having whipped him or rather flanked him and caused him to fall back. If it had not been for Bragg’s incompetency we would have held possession of all of Ky. and Tenn. We have been thoroughly blessed with incompetents in this Western Dept. Jeff Davis thinks Richmond is Heaven or nearly so while the loss of Vicksburg is incomparably greater than 40 such cities as Richmond, yet the latter has been surrendered, the former held…

But I must close my letter, I know it is not interesting but it is the best I can do under the circumstances. I am glad to hear that you have so much flour. I wish we could get some, for this cornbread will sour in 12 hours and we are required to keep 2 days’ rations on hand all the time. But I must write to Mother a hasty note to let her know I have not been surrendered at Vicksburg, for she will worry if she does not hear. I want to write to Spencer too before long as I expect he is now in Chattanooga. I am tired of this eternal state of suspense. Whatever is to be done I want it done quickly. My love to your Mother, Father and Sisters. What did your Father go to Shreveport for? Don’t let him neglect that matter of Spencer’s. Good Bye, dearest.

Your husband,

E.H. FAY

—–

Source: Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 156-60

 

From Florence McCarthy, 7th Virginia

Letter from Florence McCarthy, a chaplain for the 7th Virginia Volunteer Infantry

Williamsport, Maryland

July 10, 1863

Virginia State Flag | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

DEAR SISTER:

I saw Billy a few days ago. He was cheerful and in excellent health and said that Julian was well as usual.

They were in the hottest of the battle. Jim Marpin and another young man were shot through and through by a cannon ball at Billy’s gun.

Williamsport is a one-horse town on the north bank of the Potomac and in the western part of the valley. The houses are riddled and almost all deserted, and the country for a mile around is fetid with beef offal, and dead horses. We passed through this place on our way north, went from here to Hagerstown and then to Greencastle, Pa., Chambersburg, Pa., Gettysburg, Pa.–where we fought–and then to Hagerstown, Maryland, and Williamsport, Maryland, again. At the present Ewell’s Corps is at Hagerstown, Picket’s Division is here, and I have no conception where the remainder of the army is unless it has gone to Boonsboro or Sharpsburg.

I have been marched nearly to death. In coming from Gettysburg here, we marched three days and two nights without stopping except long enough to cook food. Most of the time it rained and the roads were perfectly awful. My socks have given out, I can buy none, beg one, steal none and it is a matter of impossibility to get a piece of clothing washed. I am lousy and dirty and have no hope of changing flannel for weeks to come. Food has been scarcer than ever. We are now enjoying a resting spell, which has already lasted three days.

We passed through Berryville, Virginia. The ladies were very kind and polite to the soldiers, but appeared to me to be rich, unrefined and ugly and ill-favored generally. Williamsport is a nest of abolitionists and free negroes. Hagerstown shut up the windows and put on mourning when we came, but when the Yankee prisoners came through went into ecstasies. Greencastle is a pretty place of about two hundred inhabitants connected by railroad with Chambersburg. Chambersburg is a pretty little city of six thousand inhabitants. I could not get into Gettysburg. It was torn all to pieces with shell…

Our men have strict orders to take nothing without paying, but they do just as they please, which is not a twentieth part as bad as they did in Virginia. The chickens, hogs and vegetables are being consumed rapidly. The crop in some places will be ruined by camps and by stock, but we have not hurt them enough to talk about. All their public property except state property has been destroyed that we could destroy.

The Battle of Gettysburg was the most awful of the war, but the battle proper did not last three hours. Our division is thought to have suffered most. It has been detailed a provost errand for the army, so small has it been made. I’m inclined to think, however, that it will be kept in the field and compelled in the future as in the past to do the hardest marching and the hardest fighting of the war.

Colonel Patton, it was thought, was killed. Colonel Flowers has been reinstated and has taken command. He is the most immodest, obscene, profane, low flung blackguard on the earth and hates me with a perfect hatred. I do not believe I have another enemy in the regiment but him. He had tried his best last year to disgrace and ruin me and I expect now he will try harder than ever. I shall not be surprised at anything he does. My plan is to keep cool, say nothing and suffer everything…

Give my best love to pa and ma and all.

Your affectionate brother,

F. MCCARTHY

—–

Source: Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 152-56

From John T. Ketcham, 4th New York Cavalry

Letter from 2nd Lieutenant John Townsend Ketcham, Company M, 4th New York Cavalry

Frederick City

July 8, 1863

New York State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

DEAR MOTHER:

I telegraphed to thee as soon as I could, and wrote about Edward. I cannot realize that he is dead. Don’t let it kill thee, mother! Thee and I are all that is left of us.

Edward was the first man killed in the regiment. They were lying on the ground, behind a little mill, in front of our batteries, making a part of the outer line of battle. It is always necessary in such time for someone to keep a lookout to watch the movements of the enemy. As the men all lay on their faces, Edward was sitting up to look; a sharpshooter’s bullet probably struck him in the temple, and went through his head. He put up his hand, and said, “Oh!” and fell on his elbow, quite dead…

I lay down behind a big rock. Whilst I lay there, two rebel batteries commenced to play on ours. I never imagined such a thunder as the firing made; there were twenty-four cannon at work, and the shells burst over our heads, fifty feet or more; one or two men were hurt near me, and the limbs of the trees dropped occasionally. I then took a musket, thinking I would stay with the infantry, till they advanced, as I was not needed with the department, it being with the mule train; the rest of our regiment was at Washington…

I went out at night, to look for Edward, but could not find him. The next morning our line advanced, and I went out to the tree, and there, on his back, his hands peacefully on his breast, lay all that was left of the brother I have lived so closely with all my life. His features, though discolored and swollen, had an expression I have seen on them before–peaceful rest. He had lain thirty-six hours on the field, with the roaring of cannon and bursting of shells over him, and the feet of contending boots, of darkness and freedom, trampling the ground he lay on.

When I got him, I brought him down under a tree. A Captain of one of the batteries said to me, “If he were a brother of mine, I would bury him on the field of glory.” He was very kind, and sent me men to dig the grave. In a little grove behind the batteries, under an oak tree, in his soldier’s uniform, wrapped in a shelter-tent, lies all the earthly remains of my brother. “He has gone to be a soldier in the army of the Lord.” And mother, thee and I walk this world of sorrow.

I set for his head-stone a piece of a young oak cut off by a rebel shell, and marked his name and regiment.

Mother, yet a little time thee and I have to walk this earth, when we compare it to the great eternity beyond, where father and Edward are gone before us.

Oh, he was cut down in the very morning of his manhood! He is laid a sacrifice on the altar of Liberty!

He died to give to every other man the right to his own manhood–a precious sacrifice–for in him were heroism, a brave heart, and an iron will. He died as he would have died–with his face toward the enemies of freedom, on the battlefield.

Edward has marched many a weary mile; he has lain on the wet, cold ground, with nothing over him, long nights, with the rain pouring on him, and never murmured; he has lain and shivered in the snow and slush, all long winter nights, after weary marches, hungry, perhaps, or after eating a few hard crackers, and a little raw meat; and, in his discomfort, he has never wished for home; except, perhaps, to look forward to that bright day when the rebellion would be crushed, and he should return home, war-worn, and covered with his well worn honors. That day, alas! he can never see. Oh, God! Thy price for freedom is a dear one!

JOHN

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Source: Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 149-52