Category Archives: Battle of Chancellorsville

1863: Frank Tileston Barker to Warren Snow Barrows

The following letter was written by Capt. Frank Tileston Barker (1838-1890), the son of Tileston Adam Barker (1807-1879) and Semira Albee (1810-1891) of Westmoreland, Cheshire county, New Hampshire. Frank’s father, Tileston, served as Captain of the Westmoreland Light Infantry or “Old West Light” between 1847-1857. In the Civil War, Tileston was commissioned Captain of Co. A, 2nd NH Volunteers and fought in the Battle of Bull Run. Later he accepted a promotion to serve as the Lt. Colonel of 14th New Hampshire Regiment. After the war he served as NH state senator 1871-1873.

Frank Barker also served in the 14th New Hampshire, enlisting on 31 August 1862 as a private and receiving his commission as captain of Co. A on 9 October 1862. He survived the war, mustering out on 27 April 1864.

During the time that Frank was in the regiment, they were assigned duty as guards on the Upper Potomac, in the Defenses of Washington D. C, and at Camp Parapet near New Orleans. The regiment took part in a couple dozen engagements before the war ended but not until late July 1864 at Deep Bottom, Virginia.

Frank wrote the letter to Warren Snow Barrows (1824-1888) of Hinsdale, Cheshire county, New Hampshire. Warren was an active member of the Democratic Party in Hinsdale and served as chairman of the Board of Selectmen for many years. One of his last duties in the town was as depot master. See also—1863: Andrew Russell Barrows to Warren Snow Barrows.

To read letters written by other members of the 14th New Hampshire that I have transcribed and published on Spared & Shared, see:

John Amsden, Co. A, 14th New Hampshire (1 Letter)
Alonzo C. Packard, Co. A, 14th New Hampshire (1 Letter)
Otis G. Cilley, Co. D, 14th New Hampshire (1 Letter)
Henry Calvin Day, Co. D, 14th New Hampshire (1 Letter)
George W. March, Co. D, 14th New Hampshire (1 Letter)
Austin Abel Spaulding, Co. G, 14th New Hampshire (6 Letters)
Leonard Erastus Spaulding, Co. G, 14th New Hampshire (13 Letters)
John Warner Sturtevant, Co. G, 14th New Hampshire (3 Letters)
Daniel Colby Currier, Co. I, 14th New Hampshire (3 Letters)
Daniel Colby Currier, Co. I, 14th New Hampshire (1 Letter)


Addressed to Warren S. Barrows, Esq., Hinsdale, New Hampshire

“Camp Adirondack”
Washington D. C.
May 6th 1863

Friend Barrows,

For many a day I have been thinking about writing you, and have at last attempted the undertaking. I suppose you have kept posted in regard to the movements of the 14th, being so many of the boys in the regiment [are] from Hinsdale. Poolesville [MD] was our residence during the past winter. From there five companies were ordered down the Potomac eight or ten miles but did not remain long before we was ordered to Washington where we now remain, doing nothing but acting as an escort to dead generals. How long we shall remain here is very uncertain.

“I suppose the North is all wrought up with excitement from the Army of the Potomac. Well they might be for a battle more “terrific” than ever was fought before on this side the Atlantic is going on near Fredericksburg and I hope the result will be such as to cause every loyal men to thank God for a stunning victory. A right damn thrashing of the Rebels by Hooker would be the grandest thing that could happen to this Nation and I pray that such may be the case.”

—Capt. Frank T. Barker, 14th New Hampshire, 6 May 1863

Judging from the thundering Hooker is making down the Rappahannock, I should presume our stay here would be short and sweet. I suppose the North is all wrought up with excitement from the Army of the Potomac. Well they might be for a battle more “terrific” than ever was fought before on this side the Atlantic is going on near Fredericksburg and I hope the result will be such as to cause every loyal men to thank God for a stunning victory. A right damn thrashing of the Rebels by Hooker would be the grandest thing that could happen to this Nation and I pray that such may be the case.

That there is not so many rebels in arms as there was a few days ago I know because they are coming in here as prisoners every day conducted by as many federal “bayonets” as is necessary to make them march through the “Yankee Capitol.” They do not look much as our soldiers so and one reason is because they have no uniform, They look more like “beggars” than soldiers, but there is no use of saying that they can’t fight.

How is public opinion up North? same as usual, I suppose—are death on the war and go in for settling this thing on “paper?” Better use the paper for wadding than to sit down and rough out a compromise on it. The time has not yet come and never will in my opinion when this government should kneel down and ask or even accept a “compromise” from such an enemy as oppose us—certainly not until every man is made a cripple and nothing is left to make him a staff. I have reason to believe that you sustain this war. I am glad it is so. It is sad that there is so many at the North that prefer power and party to country, government, and law. I can look over the errors of my rulers for I believe they are honest. I have no fear of the future of this country. It’s greatness and its glory will be ten fold more than it has ever been, “When war shall be no more.”

My health is good—much better than when I was on the Ashnelet. Father is quite well though damp weather gives him a touch of the rheumatism. I should be pleased to hear from you when convenient. Please accept for yourself and family my best wishes and believe me your friend, — Frank T. Barker

1863: Martha Rebecca (Payne) Russell to Augusta L. Baldwin

How Martha might have looked in 1863

The following letter was penned by 19 year-old Martha Rebecca (Payne) Russell (1844-1924), the daughter of Harmon Payne (1819-1900) and Sarah Esther Hotchkiss (1820-1907) of New Haven county, Connecticut. One source gives the date of Martha’s marriage to Charles E. Russell (1840-1920) as 1 September 1862 though it appears the couple were living together prior to the June 1860 US Census in Hartford with a 6-month old daughter named Mary. Charles was employed as a “carriage trimmer.” During the war, when her husband was in the service, we learn from the letter that Martha earned a living hiring herself out as a housekeeper.

Martha’s husband volunteered in Co. A, 20th Connecticut with several other young men from Prospect. The company was raised in July 1862, and placed under the command of Colonel Samuel Ross, a former Regular Army officer. With him becoming brigade commander soon afterwards; for most of the war the regiment was commanded by its Lieutenant Colonel, William Wooster. Wooster was a businessman in civilian life and more popular than the stern disciplinarian Ross. The regiment became part of the 1st Division XII Corps and had its baptism of fire at the Battle of Chancellorsville. On May 2, 1863, at Chancellorsville, the unit suffered heavy casualties as they and other units of the XII Corps bore the brunt of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson’s surprise assault.

Martha’s letter to her cousin Augusta Baldwin (1846-1866) in Naugatuck was written in the days following the battle of Chancellorsville when she had yet to hear of his safety. A final page added to the letter shares the latest news received from the front.


Addressed to Miss Augusta L. Baldwin, Naugatuck, Ct.
Care of Monroe Terrell

[Prospect, Connecticut]
Monday eve, May 11 [1863]

I am at last seated to answer your long-neglected letter. I thought of it everyday but when I first received it I was cleaning house and now, Oh! me the fighting seems to me I shall go crazy for the 20th Regiment was in the battle. I have seen only the death of two from that company but quite a number from other companies. I have not known nor done anything for the last week. I cannot work. It makes me just about sick. I forget what I am doing half of the time. Made up my beds yesterday morning without putting on any sheets and that is just about the way I work. I pity anyone that has got any friends in this war. It seems awful to me to have so many lives lost. I can tell you I am not much of a Republican. Be you?

Augusta, I cannot write so I will bring my letter to a close hoping to hear from you soon. You must excuse me for not writing more. If you knew how I felt, you would not blame me for writing such a short letter.

Yours in haste, — Martha

I could not find an image of Charlie but here is Pvt. Henry Cornwall of the 20th Connecticut Vols.

Augusta, I will try and write a little more as I have a few moments. In what regiment is Ellen’s husband in—with the nine-month’s men, is he not? And your brother L[ouis], where is he? and is he well? I suppose if my folks could hear Charlie was dead, they would rejoice with exceeding great joy as the first words mother said to me after we were married was, “I hope he will die or never come back.” Was not that a comfort to me? Think I cannot bear to think of the thing but still I am afraid what news I shall have. It is two weeks since I have heard from him—two weeks this morning since they marched. Now do write to me soon for I am very lonesome and sad. Such times I never see in my life as the last week has been. I wish I could see you. Give my love to all inquiring friends if I may chance to have any in that vicinity and reserve a share for yourself. Excuse writing and mistakes. Write soon, sooner, soonest. From your cousin, — Martha R. Russell

I advise you not to go to Waterbury to doing housework to be made nigger of for the big bugs. I have had enough of it. Don’t say anything to anyone what I wrote about my folks for they would hear of it and only make matters worse. Bad enough at the best, I think.

Oh! Augusta, I have just finished [writing] your letter but Henry has come in and brought me a letter. It is from my dear Charlie. He has been in battle but come out all safe & sound. He says Frank Matthews 1 was hit by a ball and that Fred Williams, 2 John Platt, 3 & Jim Blakeslee 4 are missing. Whether taken prisoners or killed, he does not know. I do hope they will fetch back. I cannot help but think of poor Mrs. Henry Platt. I pity her from the bottom of my heart and the rest too. I cannot be thankful enough to think Charlie is all safe. I wish the rest were. — Martha

1 Sergeant John “Frank” Matthews of Prospect, CT, was wounded on 3 May 1863 and was discharged for disability on 15 May 1864.

2 Frederick H. William of Prospect, CT, died on 27 May 1863 of wounds received at the Battle of Chancellorsville.

3 John H. Platt of Prospect, CT, survived Chancellorsville but was wounded later in the war on 19 March 1865 and discharged for disability on 22 June 1865.

4 James (“Jim”) Blakeslee of Prospect, CT, was transferred to the Invalid Corps and died in a hospital on 30 April 1864.

1863: Francis Julius Deemer to Tillie C. Deemer

This letter was written by Francis (“Frank”) J. Deemer (1838-1915) who enlisted In August 1862 at Scranton, PA to serve nine months in Co. K, 132nd Pennsylvania Infantry. Frank was promoted to Sergt. Major on 24 January 1863. He survived his tour of duty with the 132nd PA and went on to serve as 1st Lt. in Co. G, 187th Pennsylvania.

This letter was written just days before the Battle of Chancellorsville in which Deemer’s regiment was held in reserve for the first two days but was active at the front on May 3 and 4, losing about 50 men killed and wounded. On May 14, the regiment’s term expired and they were mustered out.

In his letter, Frank mentions receiving badges from his sister. These were probably home-made Corps Badges as were introduced by Gen. Joe Hooker, commander of the Army of the Potomac. The 132nd Pennsylvania was in the 3rd Brigade of the 3rd Division of the 2d Corps. Their badge would have been a blue trefoil.

A large albumen print of seven veterans of the 132nd Pennsylvania, taken between 17 & 24 May 1863 in Harrisburg while they waited to be mustered out of the service. The soldier at bottom left has 132 affixed to the chinstrap of his forge cap as well as a first issue Second Corps badge on top. The soldier at bottom right has a Co. K letter on the top of his forge cap. Presumably all seven soldiers were members of Co. K (Scranton Guards) who were recruited in the Borough of Scranton in the late summer of 1862. The 132nd Pennsylvania was a nine-month regiment that saw heavy combat in three major engagements as part of the Second Corps: Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. Michael Passero Collection.


Camp near Falmouth, Virginia
April 15th 1863

Dear Sister,

I received yours with the badges enclosed yesterday. One I kept for myself; the other I gave to Hix Jay. We are both thankful for them.

I have no time to write much now as we expect to march tomorrow morning, Where we are going to I cannot tell—perhaps to Richmond. Before we get there, however, we will have to do some pretty hard fighting. About 15 or 20,000 cavalry left the army early yesterday morning and went up the river. They no doubt intend to make a crossing and assisted with the infantry &c. try to turn the Rebels left. We are left to cross the river and drive the Rebs in front.

“Should we cross here, we will lose a great many men as the Rebs have rifle pits and breastworks that extend for miles back into the country. I hope o get through it all safe and do not think of getting killed.”

—Frank Deemer, Co. K, 132nd Pennsylvania, 15 April 1863

This will be a dangerous as well as a hard task to perform but I think we are equal to it. Should we cross here, we will lose a great many men as the Rebs have rifle pits and breastworks that extend for miles back into the country. I hope to get through it all safe and do not think of getting killed.

You appear to have changed your opinion about Emma Goby. What is your reason for it? You also ask me whether or not I’m engaged. I can’t tell you just now but will say that I am not engaged to Emma. That was canceled some time ago. I hope she has been and always will be as happy as I have since then. I received a letter from her more that six weeks ago and to judge from the tenor of it, I would think she was not as well in mind as she might be. I did not answer it for which I’m very sorry. If you see her, tell her that I’ve had scarcely any time to write and that she must excuse me for neglecting to answer her letter. She has an old silver dollar of mine which I wish you would get and keep for me. I gave to her almost five years ago to keep for me.

I answered John’s letter last week but not Mother’s and do not think I will have time previous to our move but will write the first opportunity.

With love to all, I remain your affectionate brother, — Frank

1863: William Henry Holmes to Lucinda C. (Pope) Holmes

William Henry Holmes, 6th Vermont Infantry
(Ed Italo Collection)

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.


Addressed to Mrs. Lewis Holmes, Sheffield, Vermont

Camp near White Oak Church, Virginia
Wednesday, May 27th 1863

Dear Mother,

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

1863: Robert L. Rush to Friend Henry

An unidentified Yank of Robert’s age
(Will Griffing Collection)

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

Friend Henry,

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.

Some of the boys from the 12th NYSV Orange Blossoms
(Library of Congress)

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.

1863: Joseph Edgar May to Elizabeth (Dixon) May

This letter was written by Joseph Edgar May (1843-1929), the son of Turner May (1801-1872) and Elizabeth Dixon (1806-1870) who had a farm in Richardson’s District of Craven county, North Carolina. The May family worked their farm and household with the help of at least eleven slaves in 1860.

A tintype of Joseph’s father, Turner May, with a grandchild. Turner died in 1872.

Joseph and his older brother, Benjamin Franklin May (1835-1863) both enlisted in Co. F, 2nd North Carolina Infantry in 1861. Benjamin was a sergeant in November 1861 by the time Joseph enlisted in October as a private. By March 1863, however, Joseph ha been promoted to a corporal. Joseph was with his regiment at Gettysburg but was taken prisoner at Kelly’s Ford on the Rappahannock river on 7 November 1863 and was not exchanged until 18 February 1865 at Point Lookout, Maryland.

In this poignant letter, Joseph informs his mother that his brother Benjamin was shot dead on the field of battle during the Battle of Chancellorsville—one of thirteen boys in his company that were killed on 3 May 1863. He also relays news of the death of Levi W. Deal (1843-1863), also a member of the company and a neighbor in Craven county.

I found this letter in the archives of East Carolina University who graciously digitized and made it available to the public. Their catalogue description of it is partially inaccurate and reads as follows:

Letter from J. E. May to his mother written from near Lynchburg about the Chancellorsville Campaign. May comments on the death of Frank Deall and the number of killed and wounded in his company, Company F, 2nd Regiment, N.C. Troops.

A post-war photograph of Joseph Edgar May and his wife, Mary Eliza Wooten (ca. 1900)


Camp near Fredericksburg [Virginia]
May 7, 1863

Dear Mother,

I will rite you another letter to inform you how I am getting a long. I am so tired and sleepy that I don’t know what to do, I have just come to camp. We have whipped the yanks so bad they don’t know which way to go but the worst of all—I am sorry to say—that I have to tell you [is] that Bud Frank is dead. He got killed in the battle on Sunday last, the third day of May. He was shot right through the heart. He was killed dead on the field. I was right side of him when he was hit. I got his watch and all of his things out of his pocket.

It was the hardest fight that has ever been fought in Virginia. Our company had forty men in the fight and came out with four and if you don’t call that a hard fight, I don’t know [what is]. And the other companies was cut up as bad as ours. There was thirteen killed in our company and fifteen wounded. That made twenty-seven out of forty-two and the rest of them is all missing but four.

Tell Mr. Deal unless you [don’t] see him again that his son [Levi] was killed. I reckon it is not worthwhile to give you the names of [the others] for you would not know them.

Ma, I want you and Pa to try to get somebody in “Whitford’s Battalion” 1 to swap places with me. I will give 50 dollars to boot. Ma, please write to me for I have not had a letter from home since Bud Frank was home last winter and you don’t know how glad I would be to get one.

I must come to a close for I have got to write more letters today and it is now [late]. No more at present. Your dear son until death, — J. E. May

Ma, I will tell you how to direct your letters. J. E. May, Co. F, 2nd Regt., N. C. Troops, [Stephen D.] Ramseur’s Brigade, In care of Capt. N[athaniel] M[acon] Chadwick, Richmond, Va.

1 Whitford’s Infantry Battalion, or the 11th Battalion North Carolina Home Guards was organized in the spring of 1862 with four companies, later increased to six. In January 1864 it was merged into the 67th N. C. Regiment.

1861-63: James Cornell Biddle to Gertrude (Meredith) Biddle

Colonel James C. Biddle

These letters were written by James Cornell Biddle (1835-1898), the son of James Cornell Biddle (1795-1838) and Sarah Caldwell Keppele (1798-1877). Biddle wrote the letters to his cousin—and fiancee, then wife, Gertrude Gouverneur Meredith (1839-1905), the daughter of William Morris Meredith (1799-1873) and Catherine Keppele (1801-1853). William M. Meredith was a distinguished leader of the bar in Philadelphia and served as the Secretary of Treasury (1849-50) during the Zachary Taylor administration.

James began his military service as a private in Co. A, 17th Pennsylvania Volunteers. He enlisted on 25 April 1861 and mustered out after three months on 2 August 1861. It was while serving in the 17th Pennsylvania that he wrote the following letter.

On November 1, 1861 he was commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant in Co. C, 27th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Promoted to Captain and commander of Co. H on November 1, 1862. He was soon tabbed to served on the staff of Major General George Gordon Meade, performing that duty from May 1863 through the July 1863 Gettysburg Campaign, and through the end of the war. On November 5, 1863 he was discharged from the 27th Pennsylvania, and was promoted to Major and Aide-De-Camp, US Volunteers. He was brevetted Lieutenant Colonel, US Volunteers on August 1, 1864, for “faithful and meritorious services in the field” and Colonel, US Volunteers on April 9, 1865 for “gallant and meritorious services during the recent operations resulting the fall of Richmond and the surrender of the insurgent army under General R.E. Lee”. 

See also—1862: James Cornell Biddle to Gertrude Gouverneur Meredith transcribed & published on Spared & Shared 3 in August 2013.

Letter 1

Addressed to Miss Gertrude G. Meredith, Hon. W. M. Meredith, Philadelphia

Poolesville [Maryland]
June 19th 1861

My Dearest Gertrude,

I have just received yours & Colby’s letters of the 14th inst. I was very anxious to hear from you as I had not heard anything since the 13th and felt quite relieved at the contents, hearing that you were so well. I think Colby’s idea with regard to our movements may be correct as we have fixed our tents & have everything arranged as if it was a permanent thing, but as I have told you, there is no telling from one minute to another where we may be.

Three of our companies have gone to the Potomac as a guard to two pieces of artillery & I should like very much to go myself. This is a horrid place for an encampment. We have but one tree on our ground & an army of pigs must have been here before us as the ground is all rooted up. If it should rain, it will be a regular mud puddle. A detachment of three [men] from each company have been detailed to pick off the secessionists from the other side of the river. I was told this morning they had driven a party away from a cannon & prevented them from taking it away.

I was again on guard last night at a spring preventing any person [from] poisoning it. It has generally been the rule that after being on guard all night, we had the privilege of going where we pleased, but this morning the Colonel had us all drawn up & told us we were the guard of the camp and none of us would be allowed to leave our muskets so that we are now all huddled round this one tree.

We received the Baltimore Sun of Monday which mentions the evacuation of Harper’s Ferry. They say a good many of them have gone to Edwards Ferry 5 miles from here and that now they have a force there of some 7 or 8,000, but it is not likely they will attempt to cross the river. Neither will we do so if such is the case. This is a horribly dull place & the sooner we get out of it, the better I shall like it.

I was very sorry to hear Cassie is still so miserable. I think a little change of air will be of service to her. My darling Diddy, this is the 19th & it is less than one month till my time is up. I shall be too much rejoiced for anything to be with you once more. I think this war is not going to last a very great while as I do not see how the secessionists can hold out against such odds.

Tell Colby [that] Col. [C. P.] Stone is in command of this division. 1 He is quite a young man—not over 35. General Scott thinks a great deal of him and I like him so far as I have seen him. Colby mentions he is going to see our Flags. I wish we had them with us. Col. Patterson told me he would just as soon not receive them till our return as they would get soiled but if we are to gain any honor, I would rather have it under the new colors. The band have been playing almost all the morning. It is a great addition to our camp.

I intend taking a nap, dear Gertrude, as soon as I finish these few lines to you. You know I always was a sleepy head and last night I only had three hours sleep. What would you think of my taking one of Aunt Latimer’s blankets and sleeping all night in the lawn in front of the house, wrapped up in it? I can assure you, that would be a luxury in comparison with this as there the grass is nice & soft, and here is is full of holes and very little grass. I can imagine Aunt Latimer’s consternation at such a thing & yet I was never better in my life.

I am sorry to hear Miss Margaret Price is a secessionist. I think Baltimore is as bad if not worse than any city in the Union They all profess to be Unionists here, but I think it is principally owing to our presence. They say all kinds & sorts of stories were originated with regard to us before our arrival, but they have found out they were all untrue since we have been here.

I should like very much to meet Tom’s and your Uncle Sullie’s regiments. I was in hopes of seeing them but now I do not know how it will be. I hear the President is going to recommend the calling out of 500,000 troops in addition to those already enlisted.

I have just taken a peep at your photographs. I can read your feelings exactly. I know, dear Gertrude, you are very much attached to me and likewise that I am to you & I am sure we will lead a happy life together. I have always had the feeling we were fated for each other. The day of my return will be the happiest day of my life. I often think I have so much more to look forward to on my return than most of those who are away. There were a very few letters in the mail this morning & I have had dear knows how many inquiries as to how my letters were directed. I believe there is another mail expected into camp this afternoon. Do you know my own dear Gertrude, there has not been a mail that has yet arrived without bringing me a letter from the one I care most for, of all & everything in this world.

I have been afraid they would put in the papers all kinds and sorts of rumors with regard to our movements as I do not believe they know anything more of us than we know of what is taking place in the world. It is a joke of Abbie Bache’s the advertisements we have seen in the papers for recruits. “Able bodied, unmarried men wanted for the Army, fine chance for study, &c.” John Hewson & all are well. Osy [Oswald] Jackson inquired after you all & particularly Cassie. He requested me to send his regards to you all & referred to the pleasant breakfasts he had had with the gals previous to our departure.

The New Hampshire men have gone to the Potomac & report shooting some 5 or 6 secessionists on the other side of the river. I could see them quite plainly the day I was there. It is said there is a large force of Federal troops within one hour’s distance from here, but where they are I do not know. The New York 9th & the Washington Volunteers are three-quarter of a mile below us.

I heard some rumor of George Cadwalader’s 2 being suspended on account of some negligence, but I do not credit it. You see so many false reports in the papers at such times as these.

It is now only 10 o’clock and the day seems very long. We now get up between 3 and 4 and someone remarked in Philadelphia he could not sleep in the afternoon but here he could sleep all the time. It makes a great difference being in the open air all the time.

This last week has flown by very fast to me as we have had considerable to keep up the excitement. I now have finished all I have to say. Tell Ma she must not expect me to write as your letters will answer. I always let you know all the news. Give her my love as well as Katy, Grandma, your father, Cassie, Effie, and all with a great deal of love to yourself.

I am yours devotedly, forever, — J. C. B.

1 The 17th Pennsylvania Infantry was ordered to Rockville, Montgomery County, Maryland, on 10 June, 1861, and was assigned to the Seventh Brigade, Third Division, Army of Pennsylvania, under the command of Colonel Charles Pomeroy Stone, 14th United States Infantry, by Special Orders No.96, Paragraph I, Headquarters, Department of Pennsylvania, Martinsburg, Berkeley County, Virginia, on 10 July, 1861. Col. Stone was reportedly the first volunteer to enter the Union Army, and during the war he served as a general officer, noted for his involvement at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff in October 1861. Held responsible for the Union defeat, Stone was arrested and imprisoned for almost six months, mostly for political reasons. He never received a trial, and after his release he would not hold a significant command during the war again.

2 Gen. George Cadwalader was in command of Fort McHenry. See Lincoln and Taney’s great writ showdown.

Letter 2

Knoxville [Maryland]
July 5th 1861

My Dearest Gertrude,

John Williams and myself walked to this place a few minutes ago for the purpose of mailing the letters & in hopes of being able to telegraph but find there is no telegraph office nearer than the Point of Rocks. I have written a dispatch & given it to the postmaster to give to the conductor to leave us off at that place.

Everything is quiet here—not a shot was fired last night. The people in this neighborhood are all strong Union. They are delighted at seeing us here and say we are the very men they want.

I sent you a sample of the money they are circulating in Virginia. They have it as low as 10 cents but I was not able to get one for you. I saw one that one of our men had.

This is going to be a very warm day & I should like to remain where I am for the rest of the day but our movements are so uncertain we may go at any moment & after writing his, I must hurry back to camp. I do not know how many regiments are here. I was awake a little while last night. It was but a short time I can assure you as I was very tired & heard the tramp of wagons & was told this morning they were arriving all through the night.

I do not think the fight—if any—will last long as we will be too many for them. There are 2 Mississippi Regiments in Harpers Ferry. I was very sorry indeed to hear of the loss of the New York 9th & feel it worse as it was caused by the drunken folly of one of Co. D of our regiment. They are all Irish. We have some very low characters in our regiment.

Dearest Gertrude, you must keep up your spirits. I do not think our regiment will advance much beyond Harpers Ferry in two weeks. I expect to be on board a train from this place bound to Philadelphia. How happy I shall be to be with you again. The men who live here are telling the condition of things here. They say they are ruined. All their factories are stopped & they think will never come up again. We see the effects of secession wherever we go. They have been doing, it seems to me, all the damage possible, destroying bridges, grain and everything without any reason.

Oswald Jackson has just passed on Hewson’s horse. John says his [Oswald’s] aunt lives a short distance from here. I suppose he is going to pay her a visit. I am very glad to hear Cassie is improving. I hope the change of air will be of service to her. One man says the secessionists have been blowing [bragging] that one of their men was equal to 5 Northern men, but they think it will take 4 men of our regiment to catch them & 1 to shoot them, yhey will run away so fast.

There is a mail here daily. You will receive this tomorrow. Yesterday was a glorious day to us. The people all were rejoiced to see us & I saw what would convince me if anything would of the gloriousness of our cause.

With all the love I have, I am your own devoted Jim for ever.

Give my love to Ma, Katy, your Father, Grandma and all.

Letter 3

Headquarters 5th Corps
April 4th 1863

My own darling Gertrude,

The candles are flickering so with the wind it is almost impossible to write, but I intend making out as well as I can as I would not for anything miss sending you a daily letter. I have been resting myself all day.

There was to have been a review of all the cavalry but it was postponed till tomorrow on account of the President who I hear is coming down tonight to spend Sunday. I do not think it is right to have anything of the kind on Sunday and I feel very sorry to hear it is to take place. I think nothing should be done in that day that can be avoided. I do not think we can be truly successful unless we place our trust in God as a nation, and I feel that any disregard of that day has a very bad effect on the army. I am sure the life is demoralizing enough and everything should be done to counteract the bad effects. I like to remain quiet and feel it is Sunday. It always to me is the pleasantest day of the whole week. I think it is terrible to see how little regard is paid to religion. I am sorry that I am not myself better. I know how far I am from being what I should be, & I wish I was a great deal better. I know what true happiness religion brings with it and it seems to me so strange it should be so generally disregarded. Things pertaining to this world seem to be the uppermost thoughts of mankind, ambitious to occupy a high place here on earth with no regard to the future. Why do not the same feelings operate to make humanity better?

I received your nice letter this afternoon. They come now regularly to me every day and I can assure you I look forward to their arrival with a great deal of pleasure.

I am very sorry to hear gold has gone up again. I do not think we can expect much now from either Grant or Banks in the quarter in which they are operating. I wish they would send the whole force into Tennessee and North Carolina. It seems to me we can accomplish more in that way than any other. I do not like dividing our forces so much. We must trust for the best and we cannot expect to have anything as we should like. We have a tremendous rebellion to contend against. We have to fight them now in their strong positions and it must take time to produce any telling results.

Everyone now is looking to this army. I presume before long its movements will be made known. The roads are now in a passable condition & before many weeks I presume it will be on the move.

I have not as yet read McClellan’s report. Gen. [Andrew A.] Humphreys does not like his throwing the blame upon him, or rather attributing his failure to advance to Humphreys division not being on the ground till late the day after. He says he arrived early in the morning and was in position in the rear of Porter by 8 o’clock a.m. the day after the battle with 6,000 men.

I am very well, my own darling wife. Take good care of yourself for my sake. You are ever present in my mind and I know there is a happy future in store for us. Capt, Mason has just come in my tent to tell me my map and all the books r. Garland sent me have ben burnt up. They accidentally caught fire when no one was present. Thank Mr. G for me for sending. Give my love to all & with heaps to you. Believe me forever your devoted husband.

Letter 4

Headquarters, 5th Corps
April 5th 1863

My own darling wife,

The roads had just become passable and yesterday John was remarking he did not see why the army did not move. But today the ground is covered with snow. It will take at least a week before they are in as good condition again. I am of the opinion we will not do anything till after the middle of the month. The move, when it is made is to be a rapid one and would be entirely frustrated if we should encounter such a storm as this. I think we shall go down the [Rappahannock] river, make a rapid march, and try and get to Richmond in advance of the army of Lee. I hope this time we shall be successful. By the middle of May, this army will be diminished considerably by the expiration of the enlistment of the two years men, also the nine months conscripts. Whatever is to be done must take place before that time. Our Corps will lose just one half of its number.

Today is Sunday. I have been reading my prayer book and amusing myself talking to different members of the staff. They are mostly McClellanites and in consequence I never mention his name. It is not worth while getting into disputes.

The President passed by this morning on a special train. He has gone to Gen. Hooker’s Headquarters. The review will not come off and I am very glad of it as I must confess I did not approve of it.

I am writing on my bed with your desk on my lap. I have no rest for my arm and consequently it is not possible for me to write nicely.

I am expecting a letter shortly from you. The 1 o’clock train left before the arrival of the boat. It is now just 4 o’clock—the time the train is due. We dine at 5 o’clock. I generally take a lunch at about 12. I hear the whistle of the engine now. I wonder if any of my letters were on the train that broke down between Washington & Philadelphia the other day. I hope is any should have been they were not destroyed.

John is very well and seems in much better spirits although I think he still would like very much to resign. I must confess I would like very much myself to be quietly living in the peaceful paths of life, but as this is impossible, I make myself contented.

[Our new Corps commander,] Gen. Meade I think a very good officer. Everyone speaks highly of him and he certainly is a gentleman which I am sorry to say a great many of our officers are not. A portion of Gen. Hooker’s staff were here last evening and it almost made me sick. They were half tight and a more rowdy looking set I never met. “Birds of a feather flock together.” I will not say more.

Let me know my own dear little wife all about yourself. I wish you were more regular. I think it is so important for one’s health. When you write, tell me all about yourself & I want you to be as bright as possible. When do you intend to get your spring clothes? I have one month’s pay now due me and by the end of this month hope to be able to send some more money to you. My expenses will not be at all heavy and I can save at least one half. I do not want you. to economize but get whatever you may want.

There is no news. I am very well & you need not be at all uneasy about me. Give my love to all, and with a heart overflowing with love for yourself, I am forever your devoted husband.

Letter 5

Headquarters 5th Corps
April 12th 1863

My own dear little wife,

I received your letter of the 9th yesterday. I am very glad to hear such good accounts of all at home. It is a great consolation when one is away as I am to have no cause of anxiety. I am perfectly contented and never in my life felt better in every respect. I would like very much to get a peep at you in your spring things but I hardly expect to be so fortunate. I want you to get whatever you may want. I have $80 in my purse and Capt. Mason will bring me down $160 more, leaving me a sufficient sum after paying for my horse. If I find one, I conclude to buy. It is very strange if you want to buy a horse, it is a difficult thing to get one you like, and if you want to sell, you find the same difficulty in finding anyone who wants to buy. I always calculate upon leaving one half in every horse I purchase and why I should be so unfortunate, I cannot tell. I am certain my black horse will never bring $200, the price I paid for him. Some horse jockey could buy him for about $100 & then sell him for the price I gave. I require a strong, sound horse, and as yet I have not seen any that I at all like.

There is a Swiss General visiting our army and he is coming here at 12 o’clock to ride through the camps to take a look at things in general. I am sorry for it. I am so heartily sick of anything like reviews. Of course the General [Meade] will ride with him.

It is going to be a very warm day, It is now in my tent quite close. I feel very anxious to hear of the result from Charleston. The rebels have been quite jubilant, cheering most vociferously. They called across the river to our pickets that they hoped we were satisfied with the whipping we got at Charleston. I still hope for the best. I know it is a tremendous undertaking but then we have made vast preparations and I trust they may prove successful. It will be a heavy blow morally to the rebels, and I do not believe there is anything that can damage them as much, It will tell with such effect all through the South. They hate Charleston almost as much as we do, and a great many of them would like to see it leveled to the ground.

Nothing is said as yet about moving. I do not understand the cause of the delay. It certainly is very strange, There are various surmises made as to where we will go when we leave here. The rebels are in strong force and position directly opposite to us.

John is well and seems contented in his present position. The only thing he is afraid of is being ordered to some strange general but I do not think they will do so. He has not had a great deal to do and is acting more in the capacity of Aide.

I hear nothing of the sword presentation to General Meade. Ma wrote to me it was to take place at the camp of the reserves near Alexandria. Gen. Meade himself knows nothing definite. I believe none of the new Major Generals have been allowed the Aides given them by law. Gen. Meade spoke to the President about it when he was down here. The President was very noncommittal. He said if the law gave them to them, he thought they should have them and promised to see about it on his return to Washington. I have no news, my dear little wife, only I know how much I love you and that I am always looking forward to my return to a long & endless life of happiness with as much certainty as anyone may possess. I am sure of our love for each other and I know I care for nothing without you. I must close this. Give my love to all & with a great deal to yourself.

I am forever your own devoted husband.

Letter 6

Headquarters 5th Corps
April 16th 1863

My own dear little wife,

James Cornell Biddle

We had a very heavy rain last night which will put us back a day or so in the contemplated movement, I am very glad we did not have the storm after we had taken down our tents. It is now about the change of the moon, and I am in strong hopes this has been the clear up rain for in all conscience, we have certainly had enough to last for some time.

I hear some 20,000 men left Washington the night before last to reinforce Gen. Peck [at Suffolk]. They say the rebels are concentrating troops in that direction to strike against him. I do not understand their movements but would not be at all surprised if they intend to fall back upon Richmond. From here, it certainly looks so, when we hear of such large forces on the other side of that place. We have not heard anything from our cavalry. We have to await the arrival of the Chronicle to know of anything even in our own army. We have heard distant firing but do not know what was the cause of it. There is a report that they have captured a Battery. I am in great expectations the rebel cavalry force has been very much diminished in consequence of the inability of their getting forage. It now numbers, so report goes, only 4,000 men. We sent out from here 12,000 & I presume General Stahl has left Washington with 4,000 more. They certainly ought to accomplish something. Infantry cannot follow them and they ought to have everything their own way.

The news from Charleston is not encouraging but it is as much as I expected. I had not much hope of the iron clads being able to accomplish anything against strongly casemates land batteries.

Gen. Meade said this morning he knew nothing of the intended movements. We are all wondering what the eight days supplies are for. I do not think we can carry that much. The men are very improvident and I know from experience it is difficult to get them to carry 3 days rations.

I received your letter yesterday of the 13th. They come regularly to me every day and I look forward to them arrival with a great deal of pleasure.

With regard to my views, they all know I am not an admirer of McClellan and there is very little ever said of him. I do not think it worth while to stir up controversies with those who have been associated with him. Webb was on his staff. I believe he has a good opinion of him but I have heard him say but little. Locke has been very civil to me. I recollect hearing something of the testimony he gave on the Porter & McDowell court martials but I never read them myself.

I am very well, my dear wife. I never felt better in my life. The sedentary life on the board was not compatible with my disposition. I never could stand sitting over a table all day writing and consequently gave me those unpleasant feelings after my meals. But since I have been here, I have not been troubled with them. I wonder when the board or the present officers will be relieved. I should think they must be getting tired of it.

I must now draw this to a close, my dear little wife, or else I will be too late for the mail. I feel like you, I never like to stop my letters but wish I only could write a great deal more and make them more interesting. Give my love to all & with a great deal to yourself, believe me for ever your devoted husband.

Letter 7

Headquarters 5th Corps
April 17, 1863

My own dear little wife,

We are still uncertain of our movements. The rain has disturbed all the plans for the present. It is still threatening and before a great while, I think it is going to pour. I am very sorry for it as I am afraid the tail of our cavalry may be impeded in consequence. I have not the least idea where the cavalry have gone to but the Rappahannock has risen by the recent rains and it may have prevented their crossing, as I presume they intended to do at some point. I heard of them at Rappahannock Station. There is a very good ford there but I have not heard of their crossing. It is the largest force of cavalry we have ever had together and they ought to accomplish what they design to do.

General Peck is threatened at Suffolk. I hope with the force we sent from Washington we may have good news from him.

I received yesterday the pamphlets sent to me by Mr. Garland. Thank him and tell him I have already distributed a number. I do not think the first were intentionally burnt as the fire was in John Mason’s tent and no one would have done anything of the kind intentionally. It came very near burning up the tent and the wonder was it did not do it. The legs of the table were burnt ad everything that was on it, books, gloves, &c.

I was over at Gen. Hooker’s Headquarters yesterday. Charley Cadwalader was in Washington. Jim Starr told me he was going on his Uncle George’s staff as Major. If so, George must be going to have a Corps, and if so, where is the vacancy? Starr was very anxious to get a staff appointment. He would not though do so unless he could get another commission as he did not think it right for so many officers to be taken away from Rush. Starr spoke very well of Rush although he does not fancy him, yet he says Rush has acted in everything as he thought best for the good of his regiment. He said John was too hasty in resigning insinuating that he was disgusted without any reason and as we know John has been out of sorts in every position he has occupied, he was disgusted with the law also. This is entirely for yourself and I now am sorry I have written it. I do hate to say abusive things of persons. It is a very bad habit to get into but I only mean by the above remarks to say John’s disposition is a hard one to please. We know very well the moody ways he sometimes would get into. He sees though better satisfied now for he has made up his mind it will not do for him to resign, but I think he will do so after the next fight.

The Chronicle arrives everyday by one o’clock. There has been no news for a long time and I now think we must wait till after this army gets in motion & then I think there will be startling doings. There is only one thing I regret, the time of so many men is so near expiring. I am afraid they will not fight so well as they otherwise might. I wish the draft would get in operation. We need more men. The rebels have an equal number & occupy their chosen positions, which are now strongly fortified. We ought to make up for these disadvantages by numbers.

I am in hopes Foster will get out of his scrape [in North Carolina]. I am inclined to think he is all right as the rebels have not said anything. The pickets notwithstanding talking across the river is prohibited, always taunt each other when there is any news good to either side. I hear the rebel pickets called over to ours, “So you’re trying a raid, are you?” They know everything we do. They are much better informed of what is going on than we are.

I received your letter yesterday of the 14th. It is so comforting to get such cheerful letters. I am very well and manage to pass my time very pleasantly. I have you constantly on my mind & would give a good deal to see you if for only a short time. I often think of how happy I was in Washington. I always looked forward with so much pleasure when my duties were over to my return to my darling little wife. But for the present, we must make up our minds to be separated and trust in God for the future. Have you heard or seen anything of Markoe Bache? I expect he is visiting on my head his failure to get his appointment. I see Hewson every now and then. He is looking very well and seems to like the life as much as one can be supposed to. He always seems cheerful and contented. I must now say goodbye. I like to write you nice long letters, my dear life wife, and I feel I cannot put half I want to express on paper. You know how much I love you & I can tell you my affection will never grow less. Give my love to all & with a great deal to yourself.

I am forever your devoted husband.

Gen. Meade was told by Gen. Hooker he could not let him leave the army now to go to to the sword presentation.

Letter 8

Headquarters 5th Corps
April 18th 1863

My own dear little wife,

The mail arrived yesterday but brought no letter for me. After dinner I received the second one you wrote to me on the 30th of March. I had gone over to Gen. Hooker’s Headquarters & they kept it there all this time. It partly made up for my disappointment at not hearing in the morning. My own dear little wife, I know it was not your fault but entirely owing to the mail. I will. today receive two in compensation.

I write to Gen. Ricketts yesterday. I wonder when the present Board will be dissolved and what command your Uncle Sully will have. I see every now and then new lists published in the Chronicle but they are gradually getting smaller, This is a lovely spring day and I am in hopes it may last for some time. I heard yesterday Gen. Stoneman had sent word back he was stopped owing to the impossibility of getting his artillery forward. I do trust they may accomplish some good, but what they are after I have no idea of. I hope they may destroy some of the bridges between here and Richmond. They have been delayed so much I am afraid the rebels are cognizant of their plans.

I presume now in a day or so we shall be off. I can see nothing to delay us any longer. The sooner we go, the better as the time of enlistment of some of the troops is nearly up. I have great faith in this army and if we are successful, it will pretty nigh break down the Confederacy. I read Davis’s address to his soldiers. There is no doubt they are badly off for supplies & another year—if the war lasts so long—must starve them into obedience. But I hope the triumph of our armies will sooner bring them to their senses.

There is no news of any kind. I presume we shall hear something from Suffolk or Williamsburg. Foster, I think, is safe. If they had him in a box we would have heard of it through rebel sources. I am glad Grantees troops are moving up the Mississippi. I do not believe in attempting Vicksburg again. The best thing to do is to send two or three son clads to blockade the river and take away the land force & send them into Tennessee.

How is your father? I hope he is frisking up. Also that Cassie has gotten over her indisposition—the two invalids.

Take good care of yourself, my own dear little wife. You are my every thought. I want you to get whatever you want. I now have nearly two months pay due me & $80 in my pocket so you see I am flush.

Frank Wistar was here the day before yesterday. I think Gen. Meade has applied for him as commissary of musters. We all get along together on the staff very nicely. It is a great thing to be associated with gentlemen. I am very well contented with my position. Gen. Meade has just told Gen. Griffin he intended reviewing Syke’s Division at 2 o’clock today. Alas for reviews. I though they were over. It seems to me everyone is review mad. I am sick of them having had so much of them since I’ve been here.

I must say goodbye my dear wife. Know how much I love you, my dear girl. You are my all and I look forward to a happy future. Give my love to all & with a great deal to yourself I am forever your devoted husband.

Letter 9

Headquarters 5th Corps
Stoneman’s Station, Virginia
May 22, 1863

My own dear little wife,

I received your letter of the 19th yesterday. I am very much afraid I have created expectations in your mind which I did not intend to give. I have no idea of being able to leave here now. General Meade will only give leaves of absence upon urgent grounds and then only for five days. I have the satisfaction though of knowing if there is any reason for my leaving, I can get off without any difficulty. There is no telling what may happen. Gen. Meade may be ordered to pay the President a visit & if he takes me with him, I will telegraph for you. I would give anything to be with you, my own darling little wife, and I have been thinking and envying John ever since he took his departure. I do not believe there is anyone in the army who has more reason to wish for home than myself and I trust this war may soon be ended but as long as it lasts, I feel it a duty to bear a part of the hardships, and when it is over, I will be as happy as the day is long with my own sweet Gertrude.

Jay, Mason & Dr. Russell are in my tent. They wonder how I am able to write so much. They say I must write the same letter every day. Well, my dear Gertrude, in that they are pretty nigh correct, but I know what a pleasure my letters are to you and that no apologies are necessary.

Yesterday morning I took a swim in Potomac Creek and in the afternoon went to the presentation of a horse, saddle & bridle, spurs, gloves, sword and overcoat too Gen. Barnes. I met there some 5 or 6 members of the Washington Grays who now are with the Corn Exchange Regiment. Gen. Meade has one of his nephews staying here—Mr. Meade of the Navy. He leaves this morning. He had a very narrow escape yesterday, He got one of Gen. Meade’s horses and sailor-like, depended upon the reins instead of upon his legs to hold himself in the saddle, the consequence of which was the horse reared and fell over backwards upon him. I was a good deal startled and felt afraid he was severely hurt, but he fortunately got off with only a few bruises.

I am going over to see George Ingham sometime today. Gen. Sykes has been quite sick and I believe has applied for a leave of absence in which case I presume George will get off too. Both our Division Commanders are sick. Griffin is in Washington and has just had his sick leave extended fifteen days.

Of course you have seen John and have received from him a full account of me as to how well I am. I make up my mind to be satisfied although I do miss you dreadfully. The rebels seem to be getting very tired of the war. They told our officers left at Chancellorsville they wished they could see an honorable way out of it for them and they would be satisfied.

There is no news of any kind and no sign of a move. It is impossible for us to do anything here till we are reinforced. I am in hopes though that this base will be abandoned. I see by Southern papers we are fortifying West Point [Va.]. What can be the meaning of this? I do think it a great mistake the way we are scattering our forces and have never as yet been able to have a combined movement. I believe though with all the blunders that have been committed, we are gaining every day and the rebellion is sinking. There is no doubt of the end. It has gone so far there can be no compromise and we must conquer them or they us. And of the result, I have no doubt whatever.

I we have Vicksburg, we hold the Mississippi and you recollect John Cadwalader predicted that this would be the work of ten years. It is hard for us to brook reverses. But in the end, all will be right and I trust we may be a purer, better people that ever before.

My darling Liddy, I must now close this in time fr the mail. Your letter arrive regularly every day about 1 o’clock and I am always wishing for that hour to het my letter. Give my love to a, Kate, Elizabeth, your father and all & wish a great deal of love to yourself.

I am ever your devoted husband.

Col. [Charles Mallet] Prevost of the 118th said to me he had heard of me through Philadelphia. His wife wrote to him Major Biddle had expressed some opinion with regard to Hooker. He said it was nothing bad but he could not recollect what it was. How could she have heard this? Dear Gertrude, do not think I think for a moment you would say anything to anyone. I would mind for I do not. I only not knowing her wondered how she had heard it.

1863: Jacob W. Strawyick to Andrew Strawyick

Capt. John G. Parr of Co. C, 139th Pennsylvania (Lewis Bechtold Collection)

This letter was written by 19 year-old Jacob W. Strawyick (1843-1863), the son of Andrew Strawyick (1808-Aft1880) and Susannah Martin (1807-Aft1880) of Butler, Butler county, Pennsylvania. Jacob’s father was a German emigrant who made his living as a gunsmith.

Jacob enlisted with his older brother, Hugh M. Strawyick (1840-Aft1900)—a gunsmith like his father—into Co. C, 139th Pennsylvania Infantry in early September 1862.

In his letter, written from the battle line on 1 May, 1863, Jacob attempts to reassure his father and sister that he expects to survive the battle of Chancellorsville but there is a subtle foreboding in the letter that seems to betray his true feelings. Two days later, Jacob was killed in the Battle of Salem Church (a.k.a. “Battle of Bank’s Ford”) while fighting with Sedgwick’s VI Corps. In that battle alone, the 139th Pennsylvania lost 123 men killed and wounded. Jacob was originally buried on Thomas Morrison’s Lot, Fredericksburg, Va., but was later moved to the National Cemetery.

Jacob’s letter was found in the Pension Office Records.

Some of the boys of the 139th Pennsylvania Infantry


Line of Battle near the Rappahannock
May 1st 1863

Dear Father,

I take my pen in hand to let you know that we are both well at present and I hope these few lines will find you all enjoying the same blessing at present and I hope that it may continue so till we come home that if we live to get safe out of this battle now, if we have as good luck as we had when we was across the [river the] other time—and I pray that we will. Now don’t be any uneasy about us. If it is your time to die, it will come, and if it ain’t, we will come out safe.

Now father, I sent forty dollars home with Harvey Parks to you and I want you to let me know if he gave it to you so that you can spend it for what you want and not be in need of anything that you stand in need of. Now father, I have nothing more to say this time. [That is] all at present but still remain your son till death.

— J. W. Strawyick

Write soon.

Dear sister, I received your letter of the 22nd and was glad to hear from you and was also glad to hear that you were all well and I hope they may continue so till we all meet again—if we live, ad I pray that God will spared your life to meet again. Now dear sister, I have not much to tell you this time but if I live to get out safe out of this battle, I will tell you more for I will get a furlough and come home and then I will tell you all about the times I have had since I left home. Nothing more at present but still remain your brother till death. Write soon. — J. W. Strawyick

Let Lizzy read this too…for it may be the last letter that you might get from me. But do not be uneasy till you hear from me. Goodbye, — J. W. S.

Jacob’s headstone with surname misspelled.

1863: John William Middleton to Ellen Rachel (Gregory) Middleton

This letter was written by John William Middleton (1835-1907), a private who first served the Confederacy in Co. B, 5th Virginia Infantry but who transferred to Co. H, 27th Virginia Infantry on 16 June 1861.

A post war image of John William Middleton

From military records it appears that John was dropped from the rolls of the regiment a few days after the Battle of Fredericksburg as a deserter but he was arrested and subsequently returned to the “Bloody 27th” before March 1863—in plenty of time to participate in the Battle of Chancellorsville. Datelined on 11 May 1863 from their camp near Hamilton’s Crossing a little over a week after the close of the battle, John wrote his Aunt of the battle and the pall of gloom that had settled on the survivors of Stonewall Jackson’s Brigade having just received intelligence of their gallant commander’s death, whose very nickname rattled the nerves of his opponents.

It’s fair to say that John’s enthusiasm for the war had long evaporated. “I hope our rulers will come to their senses and make some kind of a compromise,” he wrote his Aunt. “Anything in preference to this war.”

John’s letter also speaks of the lack of provisions in the Confederate army—a factor no doubt that weighed heavily on the mind of Gen. Lee and his decision to move quickly on to the offensive and carry the war north into the breadbasket of Maryland and Pennsylvania. For Pvt. Middleton there would be only one more great battle. Family history passes down a story of his having been wounded in the elbow during Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg while carrying a wounded comrade off the battlefield. Muster roll records add that John gave himself up to the “Sgt. Major of the 6th Regt. Cavalry” at Millerstown near Gettysburg on 6 July 1863, was sent to a hospital at Gettysburg on the 8th and remained there until the 15th when he was forwarded as a POW to Fort McHenry near Baltimore, Maryland. He remained there until war’s end.

John was the son of William Jefferson Middleton (1803-1877) and Ann Zimmerman (1806-1899) of Rockingham county, Virginia. In 1855 when he was twenty years old, John went to work as a clerk for his Uncle John Clarke Middleton (1812-1867) who had a blacksmith shop, a store, a bakery, and a livery stable. John wrote this letter to his Aunt Ellen Rachel (Gregory) Middleon (1817-1888), the wife of John C. Middleton. [Middleton, Robert Arthur and Arnold, Katherine Hall. Robert Middleton (1651-1708) of Maryland and Some of His Descendants. Compiled from papers and notes of Augusta B. Middleton Fothergill and additional research. Private Printing 1990. Pages 21-24.]

[Note. This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Camp near Hamilton’s Crossing
May 11, 1863

My dear aunt,

I wrote to you day before yesterday and wrote to father yesterday. You have received all the particulars of the battle before this and I will not rehearse them for it causes sad thoughts. Our loss is estimated from 8 to 10,000. I think it greatly exceeds that number. General Jackson died last evening. There was a detail made from our Brigade to escort his remains to the train. I am very fearful that the enemy will make another forward movement when they hear of his death. I have just now heard that the escort will go as far as Lexington. I would like to be on it if they do go up there. I would give anything to be at home with you—even for a short time. Oh! that this cruel war would close, that we could return to our homes and our friends. Oh the gloom that this battle will spread over Rockbridge. She suffered greatly. A man made a remark just now that struck me with force. He said all the original secessionists were getting killed. Oh, I hope there will not be another man killed. I hope our rulers will come to their senses and make some kind of a compromise. Anything in preference to this war.

Just to think, after the hard fighting we did on Sunday, 2 May, they do not give us half enough to eat. We have not eat anything today. They give us praise for gallantry displayed [but] that will not satisfy the cravings of nature. I would advise them to dispense with their praise and give us something more substantial. I am of the opinion that our stock of provisions are nearly exhausted. If they do not feed us better, there will be some of the greatest flanking done that has been done since the war.

I would like very much to see Uncle down here now. I think he would get a load back that would pay him. I have some things to send home. Fenton says he will take them when he goes which will be in a few days. I want to send my overcoat, a horse brush, and blacking brush that I picked up on the [battle]field. I expect we will draw our money in a day or two when I will send mine home and you can pay Mr. Cummings for pasturing my mare. If you see her, tell me how she looks.

It is reported that the Yankees tried to cross at Kelly’s Ford last night but were driven back. Oh, how I dread a second engagement. Some of our officers think that we will move forward in a few days. General Longstreet has moved up to Gordonsville. If we have to fight, the sooner the better. I want the war to stop and I do not care much how it terminates. I have not heard from Fanquary yet. I suppose he is busy making money. Goodbye. May the Lord bless and keep you from all harm is the prayer of your nephew, — J. W. Middleton

John William Middleton’s Grave