The following letter was written by Richard S. Thomas (1839-1864) of Huntington, Indiana, who enlisted as a recruit in Co. F, 13th Indiana Infantry on 13 September 1862. He was killed on 10 May 1864 in the fierce hand-to-hand combat that ensued when the regiment was attacked unexpectedly by two Confederate brigades led by Major General Robert Ransom while on an expedition to cut the line of communication on the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad (see Battle of Chester Station).
Richard addressed the letter to his cousin, Hannah Jeffrey (1838-1886), the daughter of Willis Jeffrey (1807-1886) and Zilpha Achsah Thomas (1811-1865) of Mount Etna, Lancaster township, Huntington county, Indiana. She died unmarried at the age of 48.
Camp Suffolk, Virginia
April 30th 1863
I have nothing of importance to write but I concluded I would write a few lines to let you know that I am still alive and well. I have no doubt but you have heard before this time that we had a few rebs in our immediate neighborhood and that we have been giving them a Lincoln pill occasionally and that they have been returning the compliment with Jeff Davis drugs.
On the 11th inst. there was one hundred men went out in front from the Old 13th to feel of their pulse but we had not advanced but a short distance outside of our pickets till we found our patients was prepared to give us a warm reception. We exchanged shots with them for about an hour but finding them too strong for our small force, we returned to camp with a loss of three men wounded. Barney [Bernard] Conron, our 2nd Lieutenant, was amongst the wounded and has since died. We sent his body to Huntington.
On the 24th we went out in force on another road and had a little fight. Our regiment was on the right and made a charge into a piece of woods where the skirmishers said the rebs was drawn up in line of battle but they was either mistaken or else when we raised the hoosier yell and went in on double quick with bayonets fixed, they thought it was more than they could stand and skallyhooted out of that in a hurry for when we got there, there was not a grey back to be seen. I shall not attempt to give any particulars as you will get it sooner and more correct in the paper than I could give if I should try.
Our company was out on a reconnoissance yesterday up the Jericho Canal, or rather the Dismal Swamp Ditch. We was about three miles above our outpost pickets and did not see anything nearer like a rebel than mud and water and canebrakes. we went till we had to wade mud and water knee deep and the further we went, the worse it got. We talk of going again tomorrow in skiffs and if we do, we will go through to Dremen [Drummond] Lake unless the rebs stop us before we get there.
There has not been any fighting for several days except by the sharpshooters. They are popping away every day but I don’t think they are accomplishing much. There is more or less artillery firing every day by our men. They are shelling the woods to keep the rebs from planting their batteries. The cannonading has ben pretty heavy for an hour or two over on the river. I think perhaps they are trying to blockade the river again.
A person that did not know anything about war and would see our fortifications and number of men and the amount of artillery we have here, they would think the whole Southern Confederacy could not whip us. I think myself it will take a good portion of them.
Well, I guess I have gassed more now than you will care about reading and I will quit for the present. Lesel [?] and Sam Williamson sends their best respects and Sam said he would like to hear from you.
Yours of the 28th of last month come to hand in due season and was read with pleasure. Give my compliments to all my friends if any there be and write soon. As ever, your cousin, — R. S. Thomas
[to] Hannah Jeffrey