This letter was written by William Henry Holmes (1844-1912), the son of Lewis Holmes (1817-1901) and Lucinda Clark Pope (1814-1897) of Caledonia county, Vermont.
William enlisted in August 1862 and was mustered into Co. E, 6th Vermont Infantry where he served until 2 January 1864. Ten years after the war ended, William married Frances Melanie Goddard and the couple made their home in DuPage county, Illinois, where William made his living as a clergyman.
After the Battle of Fredericksburg, the 6th Vermont went into winter quarters at White Oak Church, where it remained until camp was broken for the Chancellorsville movement in the spring of 1863. In the Chancellorsville campaign of 1863, the regiment did gallant service at Marye’s Heights, and especially at Bank’s Ford, where, in a gallant charge, it drove back the enemy and captured 250 prisoners—a charge that William mentions in the following letter. Curiously, from William’s fresh perspective, he characterized the Battle of Chancellorsville as “the greatest victory that the Army of the Potomac ever won” and though the passage of time has characterized the battle as a defeat, it may have indeed been one of the best fought battles by the Army of the Potomac up until that date.
Camp near White Oak Church, Virginia
Wednesday, May 27th 1863
I received yours of the 17th in good time and with it the stamps and envelopes which I was very much in need of. My box has not come yet. What the reason is, I do not know. Other boys are getting boxes every now and then of maple sugars sent since mine was.
We have to drill two hours per day now—one in the morning & one at night. We drill the skirmish & bayonet drill. There is now present for duty in this company 16 privates, two sergeants, 5 corporals—one of which is corporal of pioneers, and another is a tailor. So you see that we have not got a very heavy company just now.
Oh, our captain Thomas Clark is in North Carolina in the Signal Corps so the command comes on Lieut. [William Joseph] Sperry—a fine little fellow who looks as though he was about 17 years old.
Julia wrote that Mrs. Lougee thought that George [Lougee] was a nine-month’s man. George says that she knows that he is in for three years and that his folks would not try to make her think that [he] was a nine-month’s man.
I see that you think we got whipped over there [at Chancellorsville]. Not so. [It] is the greatest victory that the Army of the Potomac ever won and as to all of the troops not being engaged, it is not so. They were all in & seen hard fighting but the 1st Corps that passed us Saturday to help Hooker but was too late. If they had crossed here with the 6th Corps, we should not be this side of the river & don’t you see that by engaging them here and drawing their force from the south that they have gained a victory there & in my opinion the Rebs never was so hard up as today.
But don’t think the Rebs starved yet for they have enough to eat and as good as we get. I should like to [hear] a man say that he wished the Capitol burned to the ground. Why do not the folks at the North take care of such traitors? Tell Frank to write all about the bees.
I did not mean that I came any nearer to being taken prisoner than any of the rest. It was the Vermont Brigade that saved the Corps. If the Rebs had been successful in that charge, they [would] have gone to the river and taken the whole of us.
Father spoke of my clothes. I have my 2nd pair of pants, have worn out one blouse. The rest of my clothes are good. All the fault there ever was in my boots was that they was too narrow for marching. If I was on a summer campaign, I should throw them away and wear shoes. We are all well. (Tophan is well). Goodbye, — Wm. H. Holmes