This is a March 9, 1863 letter from 43 year-old private Robert L. Rush (1820-1863) of Co. C, 124th New York State Volunteers (“Orange Blossoms”) to his “Friend Henry.” The letter has an angry and frustrated tone, with considerable fury (of a racist nature) against Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, as well as toward General Hooker, who had recently taken over leadership of the Army of the Potomac—“he will show you how he can get the men slaughtered.” Sadly, Rush’s premonition proved all too true, when, two months later, Hookers troops were defeated by a much smaller force under Lee at Chancellorsville, where, on May 3, 1863 (the second bloodiest day of the Civil War), the 124th New York sustained 206 casualties, with Rush among the 38 soldiers in that unit who lost their lives.
Robert was the son of Samuel Rush (1797-1875) and Phoebe Lamoreaux (1803-1860) of Orange county, New York, and though he does not mention her in his letter, he was married to Caroline (Bates) Rush (1822-1903) and had at least five children, the youngest being just 2 years old at the time of his death in May 1863. When Caroline filed for a Widow’s Pension, she claimed her husband enrolled in the regiment on 15 August and was mustered into the service on 5 September 1862. As proof of her husband’s death while in the service, Caroline submitted a letter penned by the captain of her husband’s company, William Silliman, who less than a year later was promoted to Colonel of the 26th USCT.
Camp Stoneman, Va.,
May 13th, 1863
Mrs. Robert Rush,
It is alas too true that your husband Robert Rush fell in the battle of Chancellorsville on Sunday, ay 3rd. He was fighting bravely at my side when he was shot. The ball passed through his right arm near the shoulder and entered his body, probably reaching the heart. I saw him fall and thinking he was only severely wounded, did my best to bring him with us when we retired but he was dying in my arms before I could move him. Two of my men—William A. Homan & Duncan Boyd—and myself were with him to the last and until the regiment had gained some distance beyond us. I shall miss Robert more than almost the rest who were lost from my company. A more honest and faithful man I never knew—always ready and cheerful in the performance of duty. His good deeds will never be forgotten and a braver man will never stand by me in battle. He died easily and without apparent pain. Of course I cannot tell you where his body lies as the enemy now hold the battleground. May God be with you and your family in your trial.
Yours sincerely, — William Silliman
[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]
Camp of the 124th [New York] Regiment
Near Falmouth, Virginia
March 9, 1863
I received yours of the 27th of last month. I was much pleased to hear from you but was sorry that times is getting so hard as to force you to take Roonies in the county [poor] house. You must try to weather the storm if possible & [at] the worst, you must [be]come black yourself & come down here & hire with Uncle Sam. He gives the niggers $25 a month when he can’t afford to give us white men but $13. Oh, how I wish I was a nigger. They are so much more respected than the poor, ignorant soldier of the North.
Now I see by the papers that all our teamster laborers around the commissary besides two men detailed out of each company is to be replaced by nigger contrabands which I think goes to show that our government is getting hard up for soldiers as by this means they will increase the ranks which is getting pretty thinned by bullets & sickness—two by sickness where there is one lost by bullets and I might safely say 10.
Henry, no doubt you see in the papers the improved condition of the Army of the Potomac. Now when you see this & singular other statements such as “all they want is another chance to meet the enemy again,” you can make up your mind that it is all a damned pack of lies for I have talked with a great many old soldiers & they are heart-sick of this war. They say they are willing to fight to reestablish the Union but they can’t go fighting for the nigger. They say they don’t care a damn which whips—like the old woman when her husband & the bear was fighting. And moreover, you have seen how the health of the Army is improved by Hooker’s new order of giving the men fresh bread & vegetables. The bread we have had some 3 or 4 times but I don’t see the vegetables. The officers gets them. We had some potatoes & onions twice & when we did get them, there was not enough for each man as a sick kitten could eat.
Bully for Hooker! He will show just how he can get the men slaughtered some of these days when the sign comes right. Look at the improved condition of the regiment. We came out here with nine hundred & fifty men. Now when the regiment goes on picket, we can raise but four hundred & fifty. Now what has become of them? There has not been one man lost by bullets but quite a number of them have left their bones laying in the ground & the rest is in hospitals & laying around camp crippled & sick & it is the same in all the Army. But thank God, I have good health yet which is a great blessing here.
John Tompkins 1 has got all right & has returned to duty again. Isaac Odell 2 is coming up fast. He begins to feel quite like himself again & the Cornwall Boys generally is very well with a few exceptions. They are all on duty & kicking around. D[avid] L. Wescott 3 is complaining a little with lame back. We all know it is not caused by sleeping with the women for we don’t see one in three months. I feel myself under great obligations to you for them stamps you sent me. Tell Jess when you see him that I am as hearty as a buck, only I camp jump quite so high nor my horn is not quite so stiff.
I will now close hoping this may find you well & in Canterbury, not out back of Goshen as you was saying in your last. Take my advice & black yourself where you can get $25 worth of greenbacks. If gold comes down, par with them. I remain your obedient servant, — Robert L. Rush
Co. C, 124 Regt. N. Y. S. V., Washington D. C.
[in another hand]
Friend Henry, I saw in your letter to Friend Robert you used my name as having my eyes open at last. If a man can’t get his open here, I don’t know where in Hell he would go to get them open, but was not aware when I wrote to friend Faurat that it was going any farther, but as it has all right & if you would see more, ask G. Tompkins, Esq., or L. B. Faurat as I have written to him again on the subject of our country’s peril. Henry, I would be pleased to hear from you & if you will write, I will answer it. — Jonas G. Davis 4
1 John Thompkins was 25 years old when he enlisted in Co. C, 124th NYSV. He was captured while on picket on 23 June 1864 near Petersburg and was not released until May 1865.
2 Isaac Odell was 35 years old when he enlisted in Co. C, 124th NYSV. He was accidentally wounded at some point in the war and transferred to the Veteran Reserve Corps until discharged in July 1865.
3 David L. Wescott was 41 years old when he enlisted in Co. C, 124th NYSV. He was mortally wounded in action on the same day as Robert. He died at the Potomac Creek Hospital on 24 May 1863.
4 Jonas G. Davis was 27 years old when he enlisted in Co. C, 124th NYSV. He was discharged for disability on 20 March 1863, two weeks after this letter was written.