Category Archives: Fighting Joe Hooker

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.]


Transcription

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: William N. Green to James H. Green

This letter was written by William N. Green who first entered the Confederate service as a 27 year-old private in Co. F (“the Bibb Grays”), 11th Alabama Regiment in June 1861. While serving in that regiment, he was wounded in the left arm at the Battle of Seven Pines but not so badly that he could not fight with his regiment at Gaines’ Mill, Frazier’s Farm, 2nd Bull Run, and Antietam. In January 1863, he was elected to a 2nd Lieutenant’s rank in Co. B (“the Scottsville Guards”), 44th Alabama Infantry and the following month, we learn from this letter that he was transferred to Co. F (“Dan Steele Guards”) where he was in temporary command due to the absence of Captain [Henley G.] Sneed and the illness of 1st Lt. Oakley. Muster rolls show him serving as the 2nd Lieutenant of Co. F, 44th Alabama Regiment until September when he went home on furlough, having been wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga on 19 September 1863. When he returned the following month, he had been promoted to Captain of Co. F and led his company in the fighting at Knoxville on 29 November 1863. He was admitted to General Hospital No. 4 in Richmond on 26 April 1864 suffering from intermittent fever but discharged and returned to duty on 8 May 1864 in time to lead is company at Spotsylvania and subsequent battles until he was discharged on 29 November 1864 from his wounds.

In the 1860 US Census, William was enumerated as a 32 year-old merchant at Six Mile, on the west side of the Cahaba river in Bibb County, Alabama. He was unmarried and living alone at the time of the census in July of that year. His age differs by five years with that recorded at his enlistment in 1861.

James Hamilton Green, planter from Bibb county, Alabama

William wrote the letter to his uncle, James Hamilton Green (1806-1878) of Mars, Bibb county, Alabama. I could not find William in the census records after the war but he may have been the same William N. Green who married Elizabeth C. Gradick on 18 November 1872 at Selma, Dallas county, Alabama. (Note: surname sometimes spelled Greene in records.)

William’s letter to his uncle conveys the monotony of camp and picket duty on the Rappahannock River in February 1863, two months after the Battle of Fredericksburg and one month after Burnside’s Mud March. It’s reminiscent of numerous letters I have transcribed by Union soldiers from their encampment at Falmouth on the other side of the river but it’s more rare to find them penned by Confederate soldiers. On the very same day, perhaps at the very same moment that William wrote his letter on one side of the river, George S. Gove of Co. K, 5th New Hampshire Infantry—also a 2nd Lieutenant—wrote the following on the other side: “Nothing has happened worth writing about. We have the same thing day after day with nothing to vary the monotony. It has been raining all day but is clearing off now. We have had a good deal of rainy weather & the mud has been very deep all the time. Of course no foreword movement could be made.” 

Lt. Green’s Letter with a post-battle image of Fredericksburg taken in early 1863 showing muddy Hanover Street at right angling up the hill to Marye’s House in center distance. A snowbank can be seen on the field at left. A couple days after this letter was written, Fredericksburg was hit by another snowstorm.

Transcription

Addressed to James H. Green, Esq., Mars P O., Alabama

Camp 44th Alabama Regt. near Fredericksburg, Va.
February 15th 1863

James H. Green, Esq.
Dear Uncle,

I embrace this opportunity of complying with the promise I made you before I left. This is a cold & wet day—so much so that I don’t think I will be called on to do anything else so I shall devote the day to writing letters to my friends. I don’t know that I have anything that will interest you back there as you all take the papers & are about as well posted as we are on the subject of the war. We are all quiet here at this time & likely to remain so until the weather gets better. By the way, my theme must change. While writing the above an order has come to cook up two (2) days rations to be ready to march at a moment’s warning. So you see, we don’t know one moment what we will do the next. I don’t know what this means. It may be only to go on picket and it may be that the yankeys are making a demonstration at some point & we have to go & meet them. I am in hopes though it is only the former as we have a great deal of picket duty to do now. Our picket lines are about fifteen miles long up and down the Rappahahannock river. Our posts are on one bank & the yankeys on the other about an hundred & fifty yards apart.

“We have a ‘fighting Jo Hooker’ to contend with now so there is no telling when we will have to fight as he will have to do something soon or be superseded as that is their rule, though the roads are so bad now I think it out of the question for him to do much at present.”

—Lt. William N. Green, Co. F, 44th Alabama, 15 Feb. 1863

We have a “fighting Jo Hooker” to contend with now so there is no telling when we will have to fight as he will have to do something soon or be superseded as that is their rule, though the roads are so bad now I think it out of the question for him to do much at present.

When I commenced this, I intended to write you a long letter but I shall have to cut it short & prepare for marching. I will write you again soon when I have more time.

As you will see from the heading of this, I have changed my position. I am now in Co. F of this regiment—Capt. [Henley G.] Sneed’s company, acting as Second Lieut. I am now in command of the company as Capt. Sneed is at home & Lieut. Oakley is sick. You must write on the reception of this & give me all the news. Tell John 1 to write if his arm will admit of it. I learned that he got wounded in Tennessee though I am in hopes it is getting well by this time. He seems to be unfortunate in getting wounded & fortunate too in its being no worse.

Give my kindest regards to all the family & receive the same to yourself from your nephew, — Wm. N. Green


1 John Randolph Green )1844-1924) was William’s cousin who served in Co. F (“Tuscaloosa Rifles”), 50th Alabama Infantry. During the war he was wounded in both thighs and had his right arm broken. He was wounded in April 1862 at the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee. He was severely wounded later that year on 31 December 1862 at the Battle of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. According to his own words, Green was placed in a cavalry unit as a 1st Lieutenant about 2 months before the end of the war. Green survived the war and in 1866 he moved to Kentucky for 2 years before returning home. Later in life he lived in the Confederate Soldier’s Home in Verbena, Alabama. He died on 8 December 1924 and is buried there at the what is now known as Confederate Memorial Park; the location of the old soldier’s home.