1864: John Henry Woodward to his Wife

An unidentified Union Officer (LOC)

These letters were written by John Henry (“Harry”) Woodward (1837-1917) who enlisted as a private in Co. E, 105th Pennsylvania in August 1861 at Westmoreland, Pennsylvania. He was 24 years old when he enlisted and was described as standing 5 feet 9 inches tall, with blue eyes. In less than two months, he was promoted from private to fill the drum major position in the regimental band and then about a year later to serve as adjutant. Finally he filled the captain’s role in Co. G. but resigned his commission on 4 October 1864.

Harry wrote these letters to his wife, Mary (“Molly”) Christy Fleming (1838-1913.

The 105th Pennsylvania “Wildcats” had a long and illustrious record in the Civil War, participating more or less in all of the eastern battles. For a great summary of their record, I would refer readers to an article published by Jared Mike entitled, “105th PA ‘Wildcats’ at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863.” In one of Harry’s letters below he mentions the “Red Diamond” badge of the First Division, III Corps which the 105th Pennsylvania wore so proudly while fighting at Gettysburg and where Harry was one of the 17 officers wounded on the field.

Letter 1

Camp in the field near Petersburg
July 2nd 1864

My dearest wife,

I shall take much pleasure to acknowledge the receipt of your most welcome letter which was received by me last night and with it a counterpart of your sweet self. This token of your kindness shall not be forgotten by me. As it is the first I have had, I shall prize it dearly. And oh! that I could but take you in my arms and bless you. My very heart yearns for your sweet caresses but I shall look forward with unbounded pleasure to the time when I shall be with you to have your kind sympathy in person. Everything now looks favorable and the time may pass more swiftly that it otherwise would had we been exposed to such severe marching & hard fighting both of which I think is nearly over, as our prospects are much brighter than when I came here. We have a fine position. The men are in most excellent spirits.

I will give you a short history of our doings since I joined my regiment. The day that I came, our Division had been in front building breastworks when the Johnnies drove the Division which was on our left and came in our rear thereby causing a panic among the old division Red Diamond, capturing a number of men belonging to some new regiments. Our men fell back & took a position from which they could not be driven. It was behind this work that [I] found our Brigade about dark. We (for I had reported for duty) were ordered to retake the ground that had been lost when [we] went in on a charge and occupied all our former position. My regiment did not lose a man while the 63rd lost one man killed of whom I have before spoken. We were relieved early Thursday morning and occupied the position which we had left the evening previous. That evening I was detailed for picket and ordered to relieve the 1st U.S. Sharpshooters. I had 150 men to do it with, Had not been over the line before but succeeded in placing my men before the Rebel sharpshooters were aware of what we were doing. But they soon found out that we were in close proximity to their vedettes when a brisk fire began without any serious affect to us.

We were relieved the next evening (Friday) and sent back to the rear, there to enjoy a short rest. We had a very hot time of it as we were encamped in an open field but as fortune would have it, we were close to an ice house, the contents of which we made good use. On Sabbath, Mr. Truesdale (our chaplain) came up but did not preach. Monday evening we were ordered to the front to build breastworks. We worked all night, came back to our old camp next day and scarcely had time to sit down when we were ordered to the front again—for what purpose we knew not, but were soon apprised of the cause. We were deployed in line and were ordered to build breastworks. This we did and a finer work never was put up in so short a time.

That same evening the Rebs was consolidated temporarily after which we were ordered to rest. Next day Wednesday I was detailed as Brigade Officer of the Day and instructed to lay out a camp and report the form of it to the General Commanding. This was no small work but I succeeded in establishing a very pretty camp which is being put in most excellent condition and from appearances, we shall occupy it for some time unless the Rebels either capitulate or retreat, which they must do before very long as all the railroads have been cut.

We are getting a few deserters every day who say that Lee’s means of transportation is getting very bad. His artillery horses have no forage; wagon trains standing idle from the same cause. This we have no reason to doubt as with all the forage we have, our horses and mules are dying by the thousands from the heat and dust. I am beginning to think that the end is not far distant when we shall hear the welcome sound of peace on earth and god will to men.

I have found a warm friendship for our chaplain and think him a good man wishing to do all that he can toward furthering the good work in this regiment. I think that perhaps he will accomplish something here but it is a hard task for him as most of the men are addicted to the use of the most profane language.

I wrote to Kate yesterday giving her quite a long letter which I presume she will be tired of ere she gets through with it. I shall write to Frank this afternoon should nothing prevent my doing so.

While I am writing there is a good deal of cannonading on our right but nothing like hostilities in our front as both sides appear to have come to a tacit understanding in regard to the matter.

But I shall close committing you to the keeping of Him whose we are, and who will never leave nor forsake those who trust in Him. Give my love to Father, Mother, and sisters and write very soon. Goodbye.

From your own, — Harry

Letter 2

Camp near Petersburg, Virginia
September 12th 1864

My dearest wife,

should think that ere this will have reached you, my letter bearing the date 9th ulto. shall have been read by you making you acquainted with affairs pertaining to my getting out of the service and coming home to my dearest and best of wives. In fact, I shall not be contented and happy until I shall again bask in the sunlight of thy smiles and tell you by my actions how entirely I do love, and more than love—yes, I adore you. For you darling I could endure all things. For you I could willingly sacrifice my position—aye, everything, even my honor. All, all, but my hopes of Heaven, did know that in so doing, I should add to your happiness, for you I would live and without you I care not what may be my fate on earth. These are not merely protestations but may life prove to you, darling, that mine are not idle words, for words are altogether too inadequate to express the thousandeth part of my great love for you.

I told you in my last that the President had submitted the matter of returning officers over their original term of service to General Grant. Well, he has decided that he will not compel any officer who wishes to get out of the service to stay, but will accept of resignations. And now I would infer from this that he (General Grant) would wish the officers to remain until after the present campaign closes, whether I shall do so or not, remains uncertain. However, I shall submit the whole matter to my darling little wife. Her wish shall be my law and do not fear, darling, but that I shall accede most willingly to your wishes for I know that you would not have me do anything which might reflect dishonor on me. God alone can know how anxiously I await the time when I shall again see my now wife.

I had a letter from you which was answered but as I had not time for commenting on its contents, I will just say was good to see that I would not have been surprised had Mrs. Maj. Young permitted such a thing to be with Dr. Neither should Mrs. L’n think hard of Dr. for participating in a luxury of the kind as it was reported to all of us who were there last winter that she (Mrs. L’n) did not [ ] at such a thing herself but was disposed to be favorable to a friendship of the closest intimacy. This was reported as a fact. I do not know from experience that such was the case, but I do know this—their hire girl left the house for some cause which would not do to make public. But I shall say no more.

I am well. Have duty of the severest kind to perform daily. Give my love to all the family. May God keep and direct you and bless you is my prayer. Write soon. From your own, — Harry

Letter 3

[Not transcribed—personal letter; scans follow]

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