This letter was written by William Henry Taft (1827-1862), a carriage maker from Caroline Centre, Tompkins county, New York, who enlisted in September 1862 and was made 2nd Lt. of Co. K, 137th New York Infantry. In this 8 October 1862 letter to his wife, Phebe Robins, William shares some information about the regiment’s location and of an anticipated fight with Stonewall Jackson who had long since re-crossed the Potomac River returning to Virginia after the Maryland Campaign.
William’s military career was incredibly brief. He died of typhoid fever on 30 October 1862 at Knoxville, Maryland (see telegram below).
William was the son of John Taft (1795-1876) and Arethusa Gould (1794-1868).
Pleasant Valley, Maryland October 8, 1862
As I have about ten minutes leisure time, I thought that I would write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and enjoying myself first rate. Our boys are all very well and like it down here in Maryland. We have to lay down on the ground to write.
I went up on Maryland Heights day before yesterday. There you can look all around for twenty miles and see perhaps 200,000 soldiers in camp. We could see McClellan’s army and Burnside’s division and just above here Burnside’s army lays in wait for [Stonewall] Jackson’s force. They expect to have a big fight in a few days with Jackson. They have got him surrounded so that he has got to fight or surrender soon. They say here that Jackson lost thirty thousand in killed & wounded at the least when he came into Maryland before.
The weather is very warm and dry here—about like our warm Augusts.
Tell the folks to write often. Direct to 137th Regt. New York State Volunteers, Washington D. C.
Though unsigned, I feel confident this partial letter was written by James Stoddard Hyde (1844-1864), the son of George Hyde (1808-1890) and Susan Beach (1821-1898) of Hyde Settlement, Broome county, New York. According to the Hyde Genealogy, George and Susan (Beach) Hyde had five children: John C. (b. 1841), James S. (b. 1844), Mary F., (b. 1846), Lucy C. (b. 1848), and George H. (b. 1850). James was a grandson of Major Chauncey Hyde—a Revolutionary War veteran and a major of militia—who settled near Lisle (Hyde’s Settlement), Broome county, New York, in the late 1790s.
James was 18 years old when he enlisted at Binghamton to serve three years in Co. E, 137th New York Infantry. He mustered in as a corporal but was returned to the ranks prior to June 1863. Throughout most of the war, the 137th New York Infantry served in Gen. Geary’s “White Star” Division. James was known to be with his regiment at Gettysburg when they played a pivotal role on the night of 2 July 1863 in repulsing the Confederate attack on the previously abandoned works on Culp’s Hill. They were on the extreme right flank of the Union lines that night. Stretched at double interval, there were times when they were taking fire from three sides. [see James S. Hyde Diary, 3 July 1863, NCWRTC]
Falling ill on the Atlanta Campaign, James was sent to a hospital in Nashville where he died of disease on 17 August 1864. He was buried at Nashville.
Aquia Creek Landing, Va. Co. E, 137th N. Y. S. V. February 11th 1863
I have got a tent again now. It is raining out of doors but is very comfortable in here. Mr. [Clarendon B.] Taft 1 & Mr. [Levi] Perce 2 are both sick. Taft has the rheumatism very bad and Perce is completely worn out. He (there is considerable going on here) has had several fits. His discharge papers are being made out. Taft will probably be discharged. They have been with the drum corps for some time. Frank Rulison 3 & Albert Spafard 4—they are both good, honest, steady men. We built our tent about four feet high with logs and dug into the ground one foot and covered it with our shelter tents. We have a good fireplace and stick chimney. There is no stones in the ground here so that it makes good plaster to stop the cracks.
You say you do not see how the deserters get by the guard, Well there is a great many things that you will never know nothing about unless you come down here. Camp guard is completely played out with us. We have not had any camp guard since we left Bolivar that amounted to anything. There is a guard around our camp sitting on the stumps but they have not got any orders. The guard is kept so as to have one in case of a fight among the boys, or anything like that. Then after they get by the picket, which is not a very hard job, they are free to go whichsoever way they may choose, unless they should happen to run onto patrol guard. It is a very easy matter to desert if anyone wants to do so.
At Bolivar we used to run the guard anywhere we chose. We would go past his beat when he was not looking at you. There has not any deserted from this regiment for some time.
We moved our camp a few days ago from one hill to another. Before we had a splendid view of the river but now we have a “splendiferous” view for many miles each way. The river is said to be five miles wide here. There are about 100 boats in sight all the time. There is a round knoll about 80 feet high between us and the river where the Rebs had two pivot guns planted which blockaded the river.
I was mistaken about the 27th & 12th Regt. being in the 9th Army Corps. It took four days for them all to get started. I noticed one man standing on the boat (I did not see the 89th until they had got on board) and someone told me it was Capt. Brown. I did not know him. I did not see him but a few moments. They had a very nice steamboat to go out on.
31st. You must excuse my writing so much with a pencil. We are practicing now all our spare time. We do not have to go on fatigue duty so the Colonel has ordered us to practice 8 hours each day since we got our tents built. We had not practiced at all before since we have been here. We go out of camp, build a good fire, sit around it and tell stories.
Lieut. [Frederick M.] Halleck 5 returned home (we call this home) a few days ago. He said he saw my father, brother, & sister. Said that you were all alive and well so far as he could see. I received a good long letter from [sister] Mary (No. 18) last night. I am very glad to learn that you received the check all right and hope you will get the money on it. But we hear here that they will not cash them at Bright’s.
The 12th Army Corps is only a short distance from us up Aquia Creek a mile or two. I saw Gen. Slocum & Geary a few days ago. There were up here to see the elephant. If there is anyone in Hyde Settlement that would like to know something about war, just send them down here with a pass. You can go anywhere from Washington free. It is only a few miles from here out to the front where Hooker’s Army is. There you will see some soldiers. This place, four months ago….[rest of letter missing]
1 Clarenden B. Taft was 37 years old when he enlisted as a musician in Co. A, 137th New York Infantry on 16 August 1862. He was discharged for disability on 14 March 1863 at Acquia Creek Landing, Va.
2 Levi Perce was 43 years old when he enlisted on 16 July 1862 as a musician in Co. A, 137th New York Infantry. He mustered out with a disability on 14 March 1863 at Acquia Creek Landing, Va.
3 Frank Rulison was 33 years old when he enlisted on 16 July 1862 at Conklin to serve as a musician in Co. B, 137th New York Infantry. He was wounded in action at the Battle of Chancellorsville on 3 May 1863.
4 Albert Spafard was 37 years old when he enlisted on 16 July 1862 at Conklin to serve as a musician in Co. B, 137th New York Infantry.
5 Lieut. Frederick M. Halleck was 22 years old when he mustered in as a 2nd Lieutenant at Binghamton on 19 August 1862. He was promoted to 1st Lieut. of Co. E on 18 April 1863 and discharged in June 1865.