Category Archives: Soldiers and Sailors

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

 

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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

—–

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

From David Weisiger, 12th Virginia

Letter from Colonel David Weisiger, 12th Virginia Volunteer Infantry, to his wife after the Battle of Seven Pines.

Camp near Richmond, Va.

June 2, 1862

Virginia State Flag | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

My Darling Wife:

I’ve no doubt, from what I have heard of the rumors in Petersburg, that you are in agony about me. Yesterday I requested Ben Harrison to telegraph you from Richmond that I was safe. Oh! my dearest I have had a very hard time, but the sufferings in the way of hardship is nothing to what I have suffered in mind at seeing some of my best men and brave boys shot down before my face, to say nothing of thinking about your misery on my account. My darling, even upon the battlefield in the thickest part of the action I thought of you and what pain you would suffer if you only knew my position, but my dear one, I’ve faith in your prayers on my behalf and cannot doubt that I shall pass through unscathed. The prayers of the righteous avail much.

We were in action about half an hour and lost ten men killed, twenty-seven wounded, and seventy-five missing. You just ought to see me, muddy and dirty up to my knees, without a change of clothing as my horse after being shot ran off.

Rest assured that I will always either write or telegraph you if anything should happen. As soon as times get a little quiet I will try and pay you a visit. I must close. Give my love to all the girls.

Your ever devoted husband,

D.A. Weisiger

From Amos Steere, 25th Massachusetts

Letter from Private Amos Steere, 25th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, to his sister.

New Bern, N.C.

May 2, 1862

Massachusetts state flag | Image Credit: all-flagsworld.com

Dear Sister Lucy:

… In one of your letters written to me I believe you wrote asking of me to give you some information in regard to a person’s feeling when upon the battlefield. I can only speak for one, but have heard the remarks of a great number and their feelings are as different as their minds are at home or upon any subject.

As for my own, when we were marching along (on our march up the river road to New Bern) the next morning (after encamping out all night in the rain without any covering) up the road in front of the enemy’s works, I was startled by the sound of a cannon directly ahead of us, the Regt. having just turned in to the right along the woods, we being in the rear of the Regt. They had just got past the turn of the road, which left us in front, then the 27th (regiment), being the next in advance.

The instant I heard the report, whiz and spat came the ball. I struck in the road about ten feet from me, spattering the mud into some of the boys’ faces. At that time I thought it best to get out of the range of that gun and acted accordingly. I crossed the road into an open field, with two or three buildings upon it. There we established our hospital, or at least were to do so, but before we had got halfway across, the fire had begun to be terrible. I did not expect to get to the buildings without being hit, but fortunately there was not one of us hurt through the engagement.

After crossing the field and arriving at those houses, we found we were in more danger than before, for we were directly in front of their field pieces. The distance was short of a half mile and only but a trifle farther from their water battery–of which four of their heavy guns could be brought to bear upon us. I believe there was only three or four shots fired from that battery, as they were waiting to get a larger haul but was whipped before they were aware of it. As I said before, when we were at those houses the cannon balls, shells and bullets in abundance were flying all around us.

To add to our misery, one of our gun boats opened fire, intending to throw the shells over in amongst us. One burst in the ground just seven rods from where we stood. The next burst over the house. Then we thought best to make our quarters somewhere else, so we did, but how we got out of it without one of us being wounded is a mystery to me.

I felt the need of religion then if I ever did, and wished that I might be a Christian so that I shall in time of battle and at all other times be prepared to meet my God in peace. I have met with no change of heart as yet, but long for the time to come when it will be as easy for me to do right as it is for me to do wrong. Others say that they had not the least feelings of fear from the beginning and others say that they began to think they were cowards, and others something else.

I think as a general thing those at home that are naturally timid are the ones here that have the least fear. For a sample, I will give Patrick Cronan, Co. E, 25th Mass. He was a sort of street bully as they term it at home and has fought one prize fight here at New Bern. He skulked out of the fight and afterwards was court marshaled and sentenced to wear at guard mounting and through the day a wide board on the back with the word coward with capital letters marked on it for five days, then to have his head shaved, the buttons cut from his coat and drummed out of the service. All of that was executed.

Others that it was thought would not fight at all fought the best…

I have no particular news to write except our Fort is nearly completed just outside of the city, of which I will give you a plan. Give my love to Mary if you see her, and all the rest of my friends.

From your brother,

AMOS STEERE

From Aden Cavins, 59th Indiana Volunteers

Letter from Captain Aden Cavins, Company E, 59th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, to his wife.

Steamer Nebraska

Tennessee River

April 21, 1862

Indiana State Flag | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

I wrote you yesterday while landed at Fort Massac below Paducah (Kentucky). We are now steaming up the river rapidly. At daylight this morning we passed Fort Henry, which you will remember is twelve miles from Fort Donaldson. We will arrive at Pittsburg Landing about ten o’clock tonight and will not embark until morning. The Tennessee river is a beautiful stream, but there is not much improvement on its banks. The country is partly low, and part beautiful, rolling hills. The whole country is suggestive of poetry and fiction.

I had nothing to write you but not being otherwise engaged I write because it is pleasant to do so to you and because it will also afford you pleasure. You must not be so uneasy about me, for it would be a bloody fight indeed for one-tenth of my men to be killed and one-fifth wounded, so that though none are safe in battle, yet the chances are more in favor than against one. You will find consolation in the reflection that none die before their time comes and that there is a Providence that shapes and controls the destiny of the living and the dead.

When in company with some persons of education, you have heard us speak of the Differentials, or vanishing quantities employed in the higher mathematics. These are quantities infinitely small, but still are quantities. Human life seems to me when compared to the infinite future much like one of these Differentials. It is small, very small. It is a short dream filled up with episodes of light and shade, happiness and sadness.

You remember the beautiful tradition of some of the old Jewish Rabbis. It was that little angels were born every morning of the beautiful streams that go running over the flowers of Paradise, their life was sweet music for one day, then they died and subsided in the waters among the flowers that gave them birth. Forgetfulness soon came over their sweet roseate and musical life, and they are remembered no more forever. Such is that part of our existence called human life. We are born, live but a day, are placed in the temple of “silence and reconciliation” where lie buried the strife and fierce contentions of life. Soon the veil of oblivion is spread over all and there remains no heart beat to commemorate the departed.

I seldom indulge in fancies but merely have deviated from my usual habit on account of the poverty of news, and only do it in this case in view of the freedom I claim in writing to you in any way that judgment or humor may dictate. You are aware that at times a storm of fancies sweep across my mind. I have suppressed them through life, but they will loom up occasionally through the matter-of-fact surface that I have cultivated.