Category Archives: Battle of West Point

1862: Thomas D. Ayres to his Brother

This letter was written by Thomas D. Ayres (1838-1887), the son of Philadelphia paper manufacturer, George Washington Ayres (1811-1880) and Eliza Jane Williams (1818-1913). Thomas was married to Rebecca D. Hollis (1842-1916) on 19 September 1861 just after he had enlisted in Co. F, 95th Pennsylvania Infantry (“Gosline’s Zouaves”) in Philadelphia. Thomas survived the war, returned to Philadelphia where he and Rebecca had numerous children, and lived out his days as a confectioner. He died at the age of 49.

I could not find an image of Thomas but here is an unidentified corporal in Co. A of the Gosline’s Zouaves (W. Griffing Collection)

“Organized in Philadelphia during August 1861 under the enthusiastic guidance of John M. Gosline, the regiment was composed of men from the city and surrounding counties including one company of men from New Jersey that became Company B. First known as the “Pennsylvania Zouaves” and designated the Forty-fifth Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, the organization was re-designated in September as the Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry with a new monicker, “Gosline’s Zouaves”. Gosline envisioned a well-trained, disciplined and distinctive regiment that would stand apart from other volunteer units. Using his own financial influence with friends in Philadelphia, Gosline secured a contract with Schuylkill Arsenal outside of Philadelphia to provide his new regiment with a zouave-style uniform of his design.

The regiment’s first engagement with Confederate forces was at West Point (or “Brick House Point”), Virginia, on May 7, 1862. The regiment was initially deployed as skirmishers in the action and drove a Confederate cavalry force back into the main southern line where gray-clad infantry waited in an apparent ambush. Gosline skillfully pulled his zouaves back and ordered his men to occupy a barricade previously thrown up by other units, all the while keeping up a brisk fire on the Confederate infantry. The Confederates withdrew before nightfall leaving the ground in possession of Union forces. In their first action, the Ninety-fifth “behaved very well, bringing on the action with the enemy and keeping him well occupied”, according to General John Newton who commanded the brigade. (OR, Vol. 11, Pt. 1, p. 624) One officer and six enlisted men were wounded in the action, and eight enlisted men were killed.”
[See A History of the Regiment, 1861-1862]

To read other letters and diaries by members of the Gosline’s Zouaves that I have transcribed and posted on Spared & Shared, see:

Joshua Thompson, Co. A/H, 95th Pennsylvania (1 Letter)
Samuel Clayton, Co. D, 95th Pennsylvania (2 Diaries)
Walter Lackey, Co. K, 95th Pennsylvania (1 Letter)
Edward Riggs, Co. K, 95th Pennsylvania (1 Letter)

Transcription

Camp at the White House [Landing]
Kent County, Virginia
May 17th 1862

Dear Brother,

I received your welcome and affectionate letter several days ago and would have answered it sooner only I had no postage stamps and you can’t buy one down here for love nor money.

I suppose you heard about the fight with the rebels at West Point. Our regiment was not mentioned in the Philadelphia paper at all as far as I can learn and they are the ones that ought to have the praise and not the Fire Zouaves for they were not within two miles of the battle all day. Our regiment lost about 10 killed and 15 or 20 wounded and the Division lost about 130 killed.

Our regiment went into the fight first and drove the Rebels out of their entrenchments. Our company stood up like men and if it had not been for our captain’s skillful maneuvers, we all would have been taken prisoners or killed so you may know we had a hard fight. But we are always ready for to fight the Rebels and can whip them out of their boots.

Tell Rebecca that I have not any letter from her for the last 3 weeks and have wrote to her every week regular. Goodbye. My love to you all. I will write again in a few days to you. I am your brother, — Thomas D. Ayres

Write soon and excuse this short letter for my paper is short and pen is bad. Your brother, — T. D. Ayres

Corp. Frank Miller of Co. E, 95th Pennsylvania, or “Gosline’s Zouaves”
An early war image when they still wore their scarlet lined pants.
(W. Griffing Collection)