Category Archives: Wistar’s Raid

1864: Richard Chapman to Adam S. Miller

These letters were written by 19 year-old Richard Chapman who enlisted on 15 August 1862 to serve in Co. B. 148th New York Infantry for three years. His health failed him, however, and he died at the Fortress Monroe Hospital on 2 September 1864. The letters were addressed to Adam S. Miller of Starkey, Yates county, New York, who enlisted in the company at the same time as Chapman but mustered out of the regiment on 8 January 1864 for disability.

Richard’s two letters were written at the time of Gen. Isaac J. Wistar’s raid on Richmond in February 1864. The following partial newspaper extract published in the Daily Press on 14 February 2014 describes the raid:

Sometime about 10 a.m. on Feb. 6, 1864, the road leading west from Williamsburg began to rumble under the weight of one of the largest Union raids ever aimed at the Confederate capital in Richmond. Nearly 7,000 bluecoats moved out in an ambitious expedition led by Yorktown commander Brig. Gen. Isaac J. Wistar—more soldiers than the area had seen since the Army of the Potomac attacked retreating Confederates in the May 1862 Battle of Williamsburg.

Sparked by the plight of hundreds of captured Federal officers held in Richmond’s notorious Libby Prison, the mission became more urgent after Union spies got word of a planned transfer to the newly built yet soon-to-be-infamous Confederate POW camp in Andersonville, Ga. Two Southern deserters had described the defenses at Bottoms Bridge as lightly manned, too—and they’d confirmed their reliability through a late 1863 raid that brought nearly 100 prisoners back from Charles City County, writes Carol Kettenburg Dubbs in “Defend this Old Town: Williamsburg During the Civil War.”

Despite the efforts of Wistar and Williamsburg Col. Robert M. West to keep their preparations secret, however, the advance units of 2,200 Union cavalry “found the enemy (at Bottoms Bridge) posted in strong force, and continually receiving accessions by railroad” when they arrived early the following morning, Wistar reported. Nine troopers were killed or wounded attempting to force a crossing, after which Wistar—recognizing that he’d lost the advantage of surprise—reluctantly ordered his men to withdraw. “It was a very good plan — and they had a sizable force to carry it out. But the Confederates knew they were coming,” says Carson Hudson, author of “Civil War Williamsburg.”

“Even before their return, Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler at Fort Monroe discovered from a Richmond newspaper that a Union deserter had given them up—and he was just livid. “Butler offered to exchange any number of prisoners to get him back. But the Confederates wouldn’t.”

Letter 1

Headquarters [Isaac J.] Wistar’s Brigade
Butler’s Division, 18th Army Corps
Department of Virginia & North Carolina
148th Regt. N. Y. S. Vol. Infantry
Yorktown, Virginia
February 8, 1864

Friend Adam,

Thinking perhaps that a few lines from an old friend & used to be brother soldier would not come amiss, I thought I would write to you and let you know how we are getting along. The regiment has gone out on another raid—or expedition rather. They started last Friday at half past 2 o’clock with six days rations in their knapsacks & some took their rubber blankets & shelter tents & overcoats & a pair of socks, & there was the regiments of Colored Troops & Battery L & the 1st Rhode Island Battery & two other batteries and five regiments of cavalry & the 16th New York Heavy Artillery, & the 118th N. Y. S. Vol. Infantry & the 139th N. Y. S. Vol. Infantry, & the 25th Massachusetts Vol. & several other regiments. They were commanded by Brig. Gen. Wistar & they left here at 3 o’clock p.m. Friday 7 arrived at Williamsburg that night at 9 o’clock. At 12 M. that night they left Williamsburg for the mouth of the James river where they expected to meet Maj. Gen. Butler with about thirty-three thousand men and with the force that they had, they will number at least fifty thousand men. They had a nice little squad of them, don’t you think so? The report is that they are going to try & take a very large fort at what is called Bottom’s Bridge about fourteen miles this side of Richmond. if they succeed in taking it, they are going on further.

There is but nine of us left here. All the invalids were left here to take care of the camp & I will tell you their names commencing with Andrew Morrison [age 29], George Winans [age 46], David Griswold [age 46], David Hughes [age 46], Andrew Bradley [age 45], John H. Tymeson [age 22], Thomas H. Little [age 19], Lyman A. Stoll [age 24], and myself. My health is not very good at present. I caught a heavy cold and it settled in my right side & I have been very lame for some time but am some better now.

Ben [Grace] was enjoying good health when he left but I fear that he will never see Yorktown again for this season. Joseph Decker [age 46] & A[lexander] P. Houghtailing [age 22] has just come back. They gave out & were ordered back by the doctor & they say that Ben fell out. He could not keep up with the regiment but they say he is following up the regiment and if that is the case, he will probably be taken by the guerrillas which the country is full of & you know how they will be treated by them as well as I do.

After the regiment got to Williamsburg, the next morning the whole brigade were ordered in line & the orders were read to them by Gen. Wistar & they were as follows—that they would see long and forced marched & calm and severe fighting & I would give one month’s pay to be well & be with them.

Well, Adam, please write & tell me how you are getting along & if you got your bounty or not & all about your going home & all the news in general. The boys all send their best respects to you & I the same.

I remain as ever yours truly &c., — Richard Chapman

P. S. Excuse haste and all mistakes & direct as before, Yours &c. — R. Chapman


Letter 2

Headquarters 148th N. Y. Vol.
Yorktown, Va.
February 24, 1864

Friend Adam,

It is with great pleasure that I received your kind letter but was very sorry to hear that you had been sick again. I was in hopes that you would get well after you got home & I do really hope that you will.

The boys all came back safe but not very sound for they were all lame & had sore feet & the raid did not amount to much. They killed one Rebel Colonel & one corporal and one private and captured twenty-five men and about as many horses & they were gone four days and a half and marched one hundred and thirty-four miles. They went within ten miles of Richmond but it was the means of a great number of our Union prisoners at Richmond escaping & getting safe into the Union lines.

Well, Adam, you wanted to know where Randall G. Bacon is. Well he is at or near Fort Norfolk. He has command of the recruits that they have enlisted. He is 1st Lieutenant & expects something higher after the regiment [38th USCT] is formed. And John Morrison [age 45] is at Fort Monroe in the hospital & he has been very sick with the fever but is getting better. Ben [Grace] & Roy [Tubbs] are to bed a laughing and raising the old harry as bad as ever & they send their best respects to you & John Knapp the same.

The boys are all enjoying good health except John Clark. 1 He is pretty sick. Well, Adam, we have got two new recruits in our company & one of them is Charley Gabriel’s [18 year-old] brother [George] & the other one’s name is [William W.] “Roberts.”

I am on guard today and No. 1 on the relief & I have stood three tricks. Captain is feeling well now and he uses us very well. His wife is here & they went down to Norfolk this morning.

Well, Adam, you must excuse this poor writing for I am in a hurry and a short letter this time & please write as soon as convenient & oblige. Well good evening & pleasant dreams. I remain as ever your true & faithful friend, — Richard Chapman

1 John Clark was 22 years old when he enlisted in August 1862 in Co. B, 148th New York Infantry. He was killed in action on 18 June 1864 in the first assault on Petersburg.