Transcripts (1864): Henry D. Wharton’s Civil War Letters (Pennsylvania Volunteers, 47th Regiment-Sunbury Guards, September 1861 – October 1865)

1864:

5 and 12 April 1864

Our regular army correspondent, H.D.W., who writes from Red river, gives an interesting account of the late sanguinary battles on Red river, Louisiana, in which the Sunbury company, commanded by Captain Gobin, was engaged. The loss of the company, is one killed, six wounded, and six missing. The death of Jeremiah Haas, son of Daniel Haas, of this place, who was killed, will be deeply regretted by many friends in this vicinity.

Above: Editor’s Note which ran in the Sunbury American 7 May 1864 in the column next to the two letters from Henry D. Wharton below (dated 5 April 1864 and 12 April 1864, respectively).

[For the Sunbury American.]
Letter from the Sunbury Guards
Natchitoches, La. April 5, 1864.

DEAR WILVERT,

Thus far we have marched two hundred and sixty miles, and, with the distance between New Orleans and Franklin, makes three hundred and twenty miles, and so far our journey has not been disturbed by the appearance of any graybacks. They have been in our advance, but fled on the approach of Lee’s cavalry, who with Nim’s Flying Artillery, seem to be terror to any armed party serving under the eleven starred flag of Davis’ rotten Confederacy. Although flying before us, the rebs made sad havoc with the property of citizens on their route. For fear of cotton falling into our hands, it was burned by them, even going so far as to destroy their Gins and Sugar Factories. I saw the remains of six of these buildings. The cotton they did not burn was scattered to the winds, and as it blew over the country, the trees and fields had the appearance as though covered with snow. For one planter they burned six hundred bales and another four hundred. This was foolish waste of property for there are monied men with us (not belonging to the army) who are anxious to buy cotton, and do so in many cases, so that these owners have been robbed and reduced in circumstances, for which they may thank the degenerate son of a worthy sire, Major General Dick Taylor.

The day before we reached here, (last Friday), a fight came off between our cavalry and the rebs, in which we captured forty prisoners, among them Captain Todd, said to be the brother of Mrs. Lincoln. This man Todd is the officer who was so cruel to our prisoners in Richmond. He is guarded by five men for fear of his being shot by the jayhawkers, several of them having joined our forces. These men swear they will have satisfaction for the cruel manner in which he treated their friends while prisoners, and if it cannot be done now, they will follow him until his life pays for the crimes he has done.

There is much misery in this place and the surrounding country. Men, who a few years since, lived extravagantly and knew no want, are now almost destitute. The dress of the ladies are of the style worn when we left home to join the army of Uncle Abraham, only much faded, rents plainly to be seen, and I have no doubt they are the same clothing worn before this ‘cruel war’ began, thrown off to give way for fashion, and now worn out of necessity. When we arrived in town citizens came in from every direction claiming protection from the rebel conscription. This conscription makes no allowance for age, but takes all, from the boy of fourteen and sixteen to the old man of sixty. I saw the general order, still remaining as posted in the town, from the Governor of Louisiana, ordering all that were able to bear arms, to report immediately to the Court House of each Parish to do service in the Confederate army. One old man said with tears in his eyes, that he had two sons tied and carried away from him by force. A lady told us that her son was shot down before her, in the yard in front of her house, for his resistance to the conscription. These people and their friends are very bitter in their expressions against the authorities, or persons who are treating them as white slaves, and as many more are treated in the same way, this feeling of dissatisfaction spreading, there is no doubt Davis & Co., will soon labor under difficulties other than that of the forces of the Union.

A rebel deserter came into our lines and wished to ‘take the oath,’ saying that before he went to war he was a ‘nice young man’ and ‘went well dressed,’ but now he had become satisfied of the failure of the rebellion, and disgusted with the idea of getting killed and his corpse being found on the field with such poor clothes on.

Natchitoches is an old Spanish town, with narrow streets and singular looking houses, in which the people live up stairs [sic]. It was settled upon the banks of the Red river near two hundred years ago. Now the Red river runs in another channel, four miles from the town. The banks of the “Old” river remain, through which it flows quite a stream of water.

Commodore Porter, with his iron fleet and transports, is at Ecore ferry on the Red river, where he is unloading provision for our army, which, when finished, will enable him to proceed on his way to attack Shreevesport [sic]. When these stores are brought down here and distributed to the different Quartermasters, I believe it is the intention to move our forces so as to operate in conjunction with the fleet.

The boys are all well and in good spirits. With respect to all in the office and friends generally, I remain,

Yours, Fraternally,

H.D.W

GRAND ECORE, Western, La.,   }
April 12, 1864.

DEAR WILVERT:– After lying over for three days at Natchitoches to recruit and get a fresh supply from the Commisariat [sic], we again pushed forward in hunt of the rebs, as the sequel will show, proved lucky to us, and a perfect discomfiture to the enemy. On the first days march we were detained several hours by letting the 13th Army Corps pass by us, when we pushed forward to Double Bridges, a distance of sixteen miles. It was at this place, shortly before our arrival that a brisk skirmish came off between our cavalry and the rebs, in which we lost ninety men in killed and wounded. The rebs loss was more severe, besides a number of prisoners. On our march next day we saw unmistakeable [sic] evidence of hot work, the limbs were knocked from trees and their trunks were well pierce with shot and a number of horses lie dead by the roadside, which showed the good work done by our cavalry. In passing along we met an old darkey who was much elated at our arrival. He jumped as clapped his hands, saying ‘the rebs said dey could lick ‘em when off de gunboats; now here dey are, why don’t they do it.’   ‘Hurrah for the north if I lose my head, done gone.’ We made Pleasant Hill that day and encamped. It was here that we expected a heavy fight, but there was a mere skirmish, the rebs skedaddling in a hurry, followed by our cavalry. Our forces moved early next morning, the 13th corps far in advance. We made but seven miles and then went into camp, when the news came that the 13th and cavalry had engaged the enemy in force. Receiving two days hard tack, orders came to forward, which was done in double quick, making the distance, eight miles, in one hour and twenty minutes. We reached there at the right time, for the 13th had fought hard, expending their ammunition; the cavalry were repulsed and in their retreat made such confusion among the teams, that had it not been for our timely arrival, a panic would have ensued, exceeding that of Bull Run.

Our corps, the 19th, rushed in to the rescue, fell into line of battle, and were soon pouring on the rebs a fire which turned the tide of affairs. We were two hours under fire, giving the enemy more than we received, when darkness caused the fight to come to a close, not, however, until we gave them a parting salute of two volleys from the whole corps. Three pieces of Nimm’s battery was captured by the enemy before our corps got there, besides the train of the cavalry, with ammunition and stores.

About 10 o’clock that night our forces made a retrograde movement, falling back to Pleasant Hill, to secure a better position. – The trains were sent back so as not to interfere with our movements. We arrived safely at nine o’clock, next morning, and immediately prepared for the coming work. An hour later, the rear guard came to inform us of the approach of the enemy. – Our skirmishers of cavalry and infantry were sent out, and ‘twas not long until shots were exchanged. At this time, 10 o’clock, Smith’s 10th Army Corps reinforced us, and was soon formed in line of battle. Skirmishing continued until four o’clock when the rebs commenced feeling our lines, with artillery, on right, left and centre. This was well replied to be the 25th N.Y. Battery. (The Battery to which Dad Randels and some others of our own boys are attached.)

The battle then commenced in real earnest. The rebs charged our lines, with cheers, firing volleys of musketry that would seem to annihilate our forces. They tried to flank our right and left, but the boys repulsed them handsomely. Batteries were captured and recaptured; advances were made and repulsed, the enemy fighting as though it was the last of a desperate cause. Our volleys of musketry, of which more was used than in any fight during the war, and the executions of the artillery was too much for them, for they fled, our men after them, yelling shouts of victory, and chasing them five miles beyond the battlefield. Our fire told with terrible effect. A rebel Lieut.-Col., prisoner, said that in a charge made by one of their Brigades, when they advanced so far as to make a capture of a portion of our left a sure thing, they were met by a fire that destroyed four hundred, and then were driven back in confusion. In another advance, our fire was so destructive that only three men were left unscathed to return within their lines.

The prisoners captured amounted to two thousand; among them one General, one Lieutenant Colonel, and any quantity of Captains and Lieutenants. Of the number killed and wounded I am unable to say, but the general impression is it amounted to over five thousand. The dead body of Lieut.-Gen. Mouton was found on the field, they leaving him in their hasty retreat. He was killed by the explosion of a shell, tearing away the upper portion of his head.

Nimm’s Battery was recaptured by our regiment. Twenty-three pieces of artillery was captured by the enemy. It was at the recapture of Nimm’s Battery that our Color Sergeant, B. F. Walls, received his wound. The Squire was so well pleased at the recapture, that he rushed forward with his flag and raised it on the wheels of a caisson, when he fell pierced by a bullet in the left shoulder.

It seems the enemy were panic stricken, fleeing from the field in confusion, not caring for the wounded. They burned their entire train for fear of its falling into our hands. Part of this was well for us, for by doing so, the train taken from our cavalry was destroyed, giving us the satisfaction that our stores done them no good.

Our whole loss, in killed, wounded, missing and stragglers is estimated at three thousand. The greatest portion belonging to the 13th corps, having occurred at Sabine, on the 8th, in the first firght. The loss in Company “C,” is Jeremiah Haas, killed. Jerry felt no pain, dying almost instantly. He was beloved by his comrades, and his loss is much regretted by them. He was a good soldier, a young man whose morals were not injured from the influences of an army, and best of all, an honest man. The wounded are –

Serg. Wm. Pyers, arm and side, not dangerous.
“      B. F. Walls, left shoulder.
Private Thomas Lothard, two wounds in arm, slight,
“      Cornelius Kramer, left leg, below knee.
“      George Miller, side.
“      Thomas Nipple, hip, slight.
“      James Kennedy, right and side, severe.

Missing – J. W. McNew, J. W. Firth, Samuel Miller, Edward Matthews, John Sterner and Conrad Holman.

The whole force of the enemy was thirty-five thousand – ten thousand of them coming fresh into the fight on the second day, at Pleasant Hill, under General (Pap) Price. Our forces, parts of the 19th and 16th corps, amounted to fifteen thousand, the 13th taking no part in this action. We expect to have another fight soon, probably at Shreveport, where it is expected the rebellion will be crushed on the western side of the Mississippi.

Our wounded are getting along finely, and are in the best of spirits. They will be sent to New Orleans to remain in hospital until convalescent. The boys remaining are well and seem anxious for another encounter with the graybacks. With respects to yourself, all in the office and friends generally, I remain,

Yours Fraternally,

H.D.W.

 

29 May 1864

Letter from the Sunbury Guards.
MORGAWZA [sic] BEND, La., May 29, 1864

DEAR WILVERT: – The uncertainty of a mail passing the blockade on the Red river, established by the Johnny Rebs while we were lying at Alexandria, prevented me from writing to you until now; but knowing the anxiety you have for us, I feel justified in commencing from where I dated my last letter, and will give you the ‘dangers we have passed’ as I recollect them.

Our sojourn at Grand Ecore was for eleven days, during which time our position was well fortified by entrenchments for a length of five miles, made of heavy logs, five feet high and six feet wide, filled in with dirt. In front of this, trees were felled for a distance of two hundred yards, so that if the enemy attacked we had an open space before us which would enable our forces to repel them and follow if necessary. But our labor seemed to the men as useless, for on the morning of 22d April, the army abandoned these works and started for Alexandria. From our scouts it was ascertained that the enemy had passed some miles to our left with the intention of making a stand against our right at Bayou Cane, where there is a high bluff and dense woods, and at the same attack Smith’s forces who were bringing up the rear. This first day was a hard one on the boys, for by ten o’clock at night they made Cloutierville, a distance of forty-five miles. On that day the rear was attacked which caused our forces to reverse their front and form in line of battle, expecting too, to go back to the relief of Smith, but he needed no assistance, sending word to the front that he had ‘whipped them, and could do it again.’ It was well that Banks made so long a march on that day, for on the next we found the enemy prepared to carry out their design of attacking us front and rear. Skirmishing commenced early in the morning and as our columns advanced he fell back towards the bayou, when we soon discovered the position of their batteries on the bluff. There was then an artillery duel by the smaller pieces, and some sharp fighting by the cavalry, when the ‘mule battery,’ twenty pound Parrott guns, opened a heavy fire, which soon dislodged them, forcing the chivalry to flee in a manner not at all suitable to their boasted courage. Before this one cavalry, the 3d Brigade of the 1st Div., and Birges’ brigade of the second, had crossed the bayou and were doing good service, which, with the other work, made the enemy show their heels. The 3d brigade done some daring deeds in this fight, as also did the cavalry. In one instance the 3d charged up a hill almost perpendicular, driving the enemy back by the bayonet without firing a gun. The woods on this bluff was so thick that the cavalry had to dismount and fight on foot. During the whole of the day, our brigade, the 2d was supporting artillery, under fire all the time, and could not give Mr. Reb a return shot.

While we were fighting in front, Smith was engaged some miles in the rear, but he done his part well and drove them back. The rebel commanders thought by attacking us in the rear, and having a large face on the bluffs, they would be able to capture our train and take us all prisoners, but in this they were mistaken, for our march was so rapid that we were on them before they had thrown up the necessary earthworks. Besides they underrated the amount of our artillery, calculating from the number engaged at Pleasant Hill. The rebel prisoners say it ‘seems as though the Yankees manufacture, on short notice, artillery to order, and the men are furnished with wings when they wish to make a certain point.

The damage done to the Confederate cause by the burning of cotton was immense. On the night of the 22d our route was lighted up for miles and millions of dollars worth of this production was destroyed. This loss will be felt more by Davis & Co., than several defeats in this region, for the basis of the loan in England was on the cotton of Western Louisiana.

After the rebels had fled from the bluff the negro troops put down the pontoons, and by ten that night we were six miles beyond the bayou safely encamped. The next morning we moved forward and in two days were in Alexandria. Johnnys followed Smith’s forces, keeping out of range of his guns, except when he had gained the eminence across the bayou, when he punished them (the rebs) severely.

We were at Alexandria seventeen days, during which time the men were kept busy at throwing up earthworks, foraging and three times went out some distance to meet the enemy, but they did not make their appearance in numbers large enough for an engagement. The water in the Red river had fallen so much that it prevented the gunboats from operating with us, and kept our transports from supplying the troops with rations, (and you know soldiers, like other people, will eat) so Banks was compelled to relinquish his designs on Shreveport and fall back to the Mississippi. To do this a large dam had to be built on the falls at Alexandria to get the ironclads down the river. After a great deal labor this was accomplished and by the morning of May 13th the last one was through the shute [sic], when we bade adieu to Alexandria, marching through the town with banners flying and keeping step to the music of ‘Rally around the flag,’ and ‘When this cruel war is over.’ The next morning, at our camping place, the fleet of boats passed us, when we were informed that Alexandria had been destroyed by fire – the act of a dissatisfied citizen and several negroes. Incendiary acts were strictly forbidden in a general order the day before we left the place, and a cavalry guard was left in the rear to see the order enforced. After marching a few miles skirmishing commenced in front between the cavalry and the enemy in riflepits [sic] on the bank of the river, but they were easily driven away. When we came up we discovered their pits and places where there had been batteries planted. At this point the John Warren, and unarmed transport, on which were sick soldiers and women, was fired into and sunk, killing many and those that were not drowned taken prisoners. A tin-clad gunboat was destroyed at the same place, by which we lost a large mail. Many letters and directed envelopes were found on the bank – thrown there after the contents had been read by the unprincipled scoundrels. The inhumanity of Guerrilla bands in this department is beyond belief, and if one did not know the truth of it or saw some of their barbarities, he would write it down as the story of a ‘reliable gentleman’ or as told by an ‘intelligent contraband.’ Not satisfied with his murderous intent on unarmed transports he fires into the Hospital steamer Laurel Hill, with four hundred sick on board. This boat had the usual hospital signal floating fore and aft, yet, notwithstanding all this, and the customs of war, they fired on them, proving by this act that they are more hardened than the Indians on the frontier.

On Sunday, May 15, we left the river road and took a short route through the woods, saving considerable distance. The windings of Red river are so numerous that it resembles the tape-worm railroad wherewith the politicians frightened the dear people during the administration of Ritner and Stevens. – We stopped several hours in the woods to leave cavalry pass, when we moved forward and by four o’clock emerged into a large open plain where we formed in line of battle, expecting a regular engagement. The enemy, however, retired and we advanced ‘till dark, when the forces halted for the night, with orders to rest on their arms. – ‘Twas here that Banks rode through our regiment, amidst the cheers of the boys, and gave the pleasant news that Grant had defeated Lee. Early next morning we marched through Marksville into a prairie nine miles long and six wide where every preparation was made for a fight. The whole of our force was formed in line, in support of artillery in front, who commenced operations on the enemy driving him gradually from the prairie into the woods. As the enemy retreated before the heavy fire of our artillery, the infantry advanced in line until they reached Mousoula, where they formed in column, taking the whole field in an attempt to flank the enemy, but their running qualities were so good that we were foiled. The maneuvring [sic] of the troops was handsomely done, and the movements was [sic] one of the finest things of the war. The fight of artillery was a steady one of five miles. The enemy merely stood that they might cover the retreat of their infantry and train under cover of their artillery. Our loss was slight. Of the rebels we could not ascertain correctly, but learned from citizens who had secreted themselves during the fight, that they had many killed and wounded, who threw them into wagons, promiscuously, and drove them off so that we could not learn their casualties. The next day we moved to Simmsport on the Achafalaya [sic] river, where a bridge was made by putting the transports side by side, which enabled the troops and train to pass safely over. – The day before we crossed the rebels attacked Smith, thinking it was but the rear guard, in which they, the graybacks, were awfully cut up, and four hundred prisoners fell into our hands. Our loss in killed and wounded was ninety. This fight was the last one of the expedition. The whole of the force is safe on the Mississippi, gunboats, transports and trains. The 16th and 17th have gone to their old commands.

It is amusing to read the statements of correspondents to papers North, concerning our movements and the losses of our army. I have it from the best source that the Federal loss from Franklin to Mansfield, and from their [sic] to this point does not exceed thirty-five hundred in killed, wounded and missing, while that of the rebels is over eight thousand.

Company C, on last Saturday was detailed by the General in command of the Division to take one hundred and eighty-seven prisoners (rebs) to New Orleans. This they done [sic] satisfactorily and returned yesterday to their regiment, ready for duty. While in the City some of the boys made Captain Gobin quite a handsome present, to show their appreciation of him as an officer gentleman. The boys are well. James Kennedy who was wounded at Pleasant Hill, died at New Orleans hospital a few days ago. His friends in the company were pleased to learn that Dr. Dodge of Sunbury, now of the U.S. Steamer Octorora, was with him in his last moments, and ministered to his wants. The Doctor was one of the Surgeons from the Navy who volunteered when our wounded was sent to New Orleans.

With respects to all in the office, yourself and family and friends generally, I remain

Yours, Fraternally,

H.D.W.

 

20 August 1864

Letter from the Sunbury Guards.
CAMP NEAR CHARLESTON, VA.   }
August 20, 1864.

DEAR WILVERT : –

Since I wrote to you last, we have had weary marches and travelled many miles after the Johnnies, but as yet have not met them in a regular battle. Since the 10th of this month, Gen. Sheridan has done his best to catch and whip the rebels, but their fleetness and the peculiarity of the country, in the way of mountains and gaps, is such that he is now no nearer that object than when our march commenced. Our cavalry drove the reel videttes often while on our march towards Winchester, and every day, in skirmishes, compelled the graybacks to run for safety. Early was forced to retreat to the mountains beyond Strasburg, where he threw up intrenchments [sic], hoping to draw our army into a trap, but our commander knowing the position he held, and the almost impossibility of driving the enemy from the gap, did not advance further than Cedar creek with the main army, and then sent the cavalry to commence operations, by trying to draw him out into an open field and fair fight. This they accomplished on last Tuesday having as Gen. Sheridan reports ‘a brilliant affair,’ in which the rebels lost severely in killed, wounded and prisoners. In this fight the rebs crossed a stream and made a charge; they were repulsed and in recrossing, besides the killed, many were taken prisoners, the cavalry boys saying ‘come back, or we will shoot. This command was readily obeyed, the Johnnies thinking like Capt. Scott’s coon, ‘not to shoot and they would knock under.’ The enemy were forced back to Front Royal, when they were reinforced by two Divisions of Longstreet’s corps, from Richmond. Our force then fell back to the creek, when a sharp artillery duel came off. Not making anything out of this, Sheridan fell further back, trying to coax the enemy from his earthenworks and the stronghold of the mountain. This, the Confed leaders would not accept, so Sheridan moved part of his forces back to Winchester, then to Berryville, keeping, however, his army so fixed that there could be no danger of surprise, and finally to this camp, two miles from Charlestown, where every preparation is made for a fight, and the great wish now is that the rebel horde will make their appearance in force, so that the strife may end in the valley, and that we may so effectually use them up that there will be an end to the raids into Pennsylvania and Maryland.

On our route from Berryville to Middletown, we passed a farm house, on the porch of which, were three gaily dressed young ladies. They laughed and chatted with the boys, offering them water, and made themselves generally agreeable. Not suspecting anything wrong, the most of our corps passed by, when a little brother allowed ‘there was some soldiers in the house.’ The Provost Marshal thought it advisable to examine the premises, and by so doing found concealed under beds, three rebel officers and seven privates. These gentlemen were at work threshing grain, and our skirmishers coming on them so quickly they could not get away, so they sought the house for shelter thinking by this ruse of the young ladies donning their ‘best bib and tucker,’ they could elude the vigilance of the Yanks and escape. They were mistaken and ere you get this, these chivalrous gentlemen will be in durance vile, guarded by Uncle Abe’s pets.

Charlestown is not the place it was three years ago, when we were encamped there as three months men. Then business was brisk, stores filled with goods and open to purchasers, the streets crowded with men, and the open windows showed the faces of many beautiful women, some of whom wore smiles and appeared happy, while others played the part of the virago and spat at our boys as they passed on the side walk. Now misery and want are visible, stores closed, signs displaced, streets deserted, buildings burned and everything indicates that these once happy people, what are left, are brought to poverty, if not starvation. Winchester has been a right smart place, having all the modern improvements, such as gas, water works, &c. The buildings are really fine and the streets well paved. It is situated in a splendid valley and must have been a place of considerable business. But like its sister, Charlestown, war and battle has had effect on it; and now it is but a ‘deserted village.’

A cavalry train was attacked at Berrysville [sic], a few days ago, by Moseby’s men, just as they were coming out of the park. The guard (hundred day men) were surprised and fled, leaving arms, &c., in the confusion. The wagons, about fifty, were burned and two hundred mules captured. A scouting of cavalry hearing the firing, immediately started to the rescue, and arrived in time only to give chase to the guerrillas who were notified of the whereabouts of the train by a citizen; who, for his part was hung as a spy. This spy made a speech acknowledging his guilt, giving his reasons for the act, and then most pittifully [sic] begged for his life. It was all of no avail, for the facts were so positive that hesitance to carry out the sentence would have been criminal. He had been under arrest twice before, but managed to escape. This time he was caught in citizens [sic] dress, having been but a short time before seen a rebel uniform, in fact, about the time the train was attacked. Papers were found on him addressed to Longstreet, giving a particular account of our forces, the amount of infantry, artillery and cavalry, and, besides, he was identified by an Adjutant, whom he, the spy, had stood guard over while he was in Libby prison. He had the spiritual advice of three Chaplains, and was baptized shortly before his execution.

Several promotions have been made lately in the 47th Pa., Vols., the most prominent of which is Capt. J. P. S. GOBIN, to that of Major. This appointment is well deserved and is the unanimous choice of the Regiment. The members of Co. C., for their own good, are opposed to losing their Captain; but for his advancement are well pleased, and consider what is their loss is gain to the regiment.

The members of Co. C., that were taken prisoners in the battle on the Red river, have been paroled or exchanged, with the exception of John C. Sterner, and are now at their homes on furlough or in hospitals at New Orleans. While at Tyler, Texas, they were vaccinated or innoculated [sic], with impure matter which impregnated their blood and now they are afflicted with ulcerated limbs and sore eyes. The fiends, pretending to give these men a preventive for small pox, filled their systems with a loathsome disease that will cling through life. Is not this an inhuman act? Samuel Miller is in the hospital at New Orleans.

An attack is hourly expected. Our forces are in position ready to receive the enemy. If a battle comes off, and I am lucky, I will send you particulars. The boys are well. With respects to all in the office, yourself and friends, I remain,

Yours, Fraternally,

H.D.W.

 

7 September 1864

Letter from the Sunbury Guards.
NEAR BERRYVILLE, VA.,    }
September 7, 1864.

DEAR WILVERT:

For several days after the army had advanced up this valley, the men were busily engaged in building intrenchments [sic] and fortifying their position, two miles west of Charlestown. During the entire night and the whole next day were the boys at work with the shovel and pick, carrying rails, &c., building breastworks for the protection of the regiment, and scarcely was the job finished, the bright spade put aside, when ‘fall in’ was heard, and the 47th was moved to another place to build other earthworks. – This they done [sic] cheerfully, knowing the work was necessary; and that it was for their own protection. The position held by our army, at that point, was excellent, and so well arranged was [sic] our defences, that an attack made on us b the enemy would have been disastrous to him, and added another list to the name of Union victories. The enemy knew this, and after finding out Sheridan’s strength fell back towards Winchester, keeping his head quarters [sic] at Bunker Hill. Our forces on last Saturday morning, then broke up camp, following them to within one mile of this place, where we found signs of the Johnnies. The 8th corps, Gen. Crooks, commanding, was, in the advance who rested in line of battle, with arms stacked, for a couple of hours, while pickets were being posted. After the pickets had been established this command went into camp, and had just finished pitching their tents, which was about four o’clock P.M., when heavy skirmishing was heard on the picket line. The whole command was rapidly turned out and formed, and moved to the support of the pickets, who had been driven from behind some intrenchments [sic], which they had occupied.

From the correspondent of the Baltimore American, I learn the following facts of the fight:

The 36th Ohio and 9th Virginia were formed, and charged the enemy, driving then out of the entrenchments. A desperate struggle now ensued, the rebels being determined, if possible, to regain possession of these entrenchments. With this object in view they massed full two divisions of their command and hurled them with their accustomed ferocity against our gallant little band, who were supported by both Thoburn’s and Duvall’s division. They were handsomely repulsed every time they changed, the conflict lasting long after the sun had sent, and artillery firing being kept up until 9 o’clock.

Our loss was about three hundred killed and wounded that of the enemy, from good information, was at least one-third greater, besides fifty prisoners and a stand of colors.

While the fight was going on, the 6th and 19th corps were pushed forward and took up several lines, but not being needed, did not share in the punishment given the rebels. On the next day, Sabbata [sic], the pickets had hard work and done a great deal of firing with the enemy. A member of Company C., to which I belong, told me he fired fifty-three rounds at them. What punishment was inflicted I cannot tell you, on the part of the Johnies sic], but to our men, I know it was small; two men of the 47th wounded by the same ball, and they slightly.

On Monday the 47th was out on a reconnoisance [sic]. Four companies were in advance as skirmishers, who soon were received by a shower of bullets from the graybacks. This did not, in the least deter them, for they gave as good as they got, and with the regiment pushed on driving the enemy before them. The main portion of the regiment dare not fire, for if they did, the shooting of our own men who have been he consequence, so they stood the whizzing of bullets about their ears, as well as could be expected, under the circumstances. In this work two members of Co., C., were wounded. David Sloan, flesh wound in right army from a minnie ball, and Benjamin McKillips in right hand. These wounds are slight, but at the present time somewhat painful, not so much so, however, as to prevent them enjoying that great luxury of a soldier – sleep. Capt. Oyster was struck by a ball, staggering him, but otherwise doing no injury. In his being hit there is a circumstance connected, that I cannot help but giving you, even you may put it down as a fish story, though for the truth the whole company will vouch. The ball struck him on the back of his shoulder, made a hole in his vest and shirt and none in the coat. Two members of Co. K., were wounded – one of them has since died.

The whole army have [sic] been busily engaged in digging intrenchments [sic], and throwing up breastworks, and now occupy a very strong position. Whether there will be an engagement here, or what the movements are to be, I can form no opinion, for if there was a General ever kept his thoughts, Sheridan is the one, and it is an impossibility to find out anything until it is completed. For material to write on, one is continued to his own Brigade, and there is so much sameness in that, that it would be but a repetition to send it to you. If I were to take down the ‘thousand and one’ rumors that daily come into camp, I could fill columns of the American, weekly, but as I prefer facts, I hope you will be satisfied if I send you news semi-occasionally.

I wrote to you a few days ago of the promotions in Company C, but for fear they did not reach you, I send them again: Daniel Oyster, Captain; William M. Hendricks, 1st Lieutenant; and Christian S. Beard, 2nd Lieutenant. They are well liked, and in their new positions give satisfaction. With the exception of the wounded, the boys are well, perfectly contented with their lot, only that they have a great hankering for the greenbacks that is [sic] due to them. Those, it is said, will be forthcoming in a few days. With respects to yourself, family and old friends, I remain,

Yours, Fraternally,
H. D. W.

 

September 1864

Letter from the Sunbury Guards.
HARRISONBURG, Va., Sept, 1864.

DEAR WILVERT:

As there has been no train going back to Harper’s Ferry, and our long and hurried chase after the Johnnies, I have not been able to send you any account of our great and glorious victories. We have, this morning, a breathing spell, so I will profit by it and give you a short history of our doings.

On Monday, Sept. 19, we broke camp at two o’clock in the morning, and moved in the direction of Winchester. The 19th corps marched slowly for an hour when they stopped for two hours. Hearing heavy firing they moved on crossed the Opequan creek, and pushed forward quickly, eager to join in any fun going on in front. This sport was found three miles east of Winchester, where the 6th and artillery were engaged with the enemy. The two Divisions of the 19th with the 8th were thrown in line of battle, ready for the work before them. Keeping in this line for about thirty minutes, under the artillery of the rebels, who were engaged in a nice little duel with our own, an advance was ordered. Our men moved forward as if on parade, and were soon hid in a thick woods, were the rebels were massed to receive them. Then the murderous work commenced. For twenty minutes a continual roar of musketry was heard, reports of artillery shook the earth and the air seemed filed with the whiz of shells and bullets, commingled with the cheers of the men engaged in deadly strife, when a portion of our centre [sic] broke and fell back from the woods into the field from which they started. Matters at this moment looked dark and a retreat seemed on the tapis, but not so, a defiant cheer arose above the din of battle, and the 1st Division of the 19th and parts of the 6th stopped the graybacks in their advance. The party who broke, now rallied, and our whole force was hurled against the foe, driving them from every position they held, finally forcing them into a disgraceful retreat, chasing horse, foot and dragoon twenty-two miles to Fisher’s Hill, back of Strausburg [sic]. The enemy left so hurriedly that twenty-five hundred wounded fell into our hands, besides their dead. We captured over four thousand prisoners, five pieces of artillery, any quantity of small arms, and fifteen battle flags. The loss of their General officers shows how severely they were punished. Generals Rhodes, Gordon, Ramseur and Wharton were killed, and Generals Bradley T. Johnson, Yorke and Godwin wounded. The total rebel loss in killed, wounded and captured, was between eight and nine thousand. You may rely on the amount of prisoners – for I saw the most of them – at one place in Winchester twenty-five hundred, and of squads brought in during the fight, I counted from two hundred down to as low numbers as one Colonel. – Our loss was severe, but not one-fourth that of the enemy, as we lost no prisoners and retained possession of our wounded. I crossed over a part of the battle-field, and found a sickening sight. Dead and dying covered the ground, wounded men gasping for breath and others crying for water. These were mostly rebels, (our own having been cared for,) but were now being attended to by our nurses, and would have been before, only that they, (the rebels) were further on in the battle field than our men. The rebels fled so precipitately, that not to be deterred to their flight, they cut their accoutrements from their waists and shoulders, and threw away their guns, leaving all in the field. – Dead bodies were to be seen into the very town of Winchester, and on the outskirts, I saw one, breathing his last, who had been shot behind a stone fence, while trying to do the same trick to one of our own boys. On the route through Newtown, Middleton and the whole way to Cedar creek, evidence of their flight was seen. Dead horses, burned caissons, wagons, ambulances and the destruction of arms. All these things were by the road side and in the fields, showing how hard pushed Early was in his flight.

The 1st Division of the 6th corps, in the death of General Russell, lost a capable officer, and his loss is regretted by all who were under his command.

On Tuesday night our forces reached Strasburg, or rather on the hills, of the Winchester side. The next day we advanced about one mile, and occupied the day in shelling the woods, to find out the position of the enemy. This was accomplished, and that night a portion of the army moved toward Fisher’s Hill, which was occupied by the enemy. The next morning, Thursday, our entire army was formed in line, and assigned positions. Skirmish lines, with their supports, were thrown out who gradually drove them from the many lines, they established during the day. Our artillery were engaged most of the day in shelling their lines and trying to get an answer from their batteries. This was done about two o’clock, when they fired at our skirmish line, as they made a general advance. Then commenced a heavy artillery fight, during which our lines steadily drove that of the rebels back. The Johnnies were driven from line to line, until finally they broke and fled in worse confusion than they did at Winchester, our boys after them, yelling, the rebels leaving behind all the artillery they had in position, which our fellows took and used on them as they disgracefully retreated. Our boys followed them at double-quick about four miles, in the greatest glee, forgetting all fatigue in their triumph, nor thinking of danger, when, under cover of darkness, the rebels fired four shots of artillery loaded with shell right in their front, and from musketry on either side. The damage down was slight, only wounding some three or four, but for the moment caused confusion, but Sheridan who is always in front, shouted never mind one gun after so glorious a victory; give them a yell you can frighten them with that,’ which the boys did, and then continued on to Woodstock, where they had to stop for rest and rations. The gun used by the rebels in this cowardly attack was captured by our men on the spot.

Our stay at Woodstock was a short one, for we immediately pushed on after the flying foe, they only stopping occasionally to impede our progress, that they might get off their train. The people by the way, told us such a retreat was never heard of. Cavalry, Artillery, Infantry, and waggon [sic] trains all mixed up – each one trying to be foremost. They say their Army is completely demoralized, and the people were anxious for peace. A woman told some of us that the retreating soldiers swore they would fight no more. General Early, at New Market, cried when he could no more rally his men, that he might make a final stand to retrieve his lost fortune.

Of the amount of prisoners captured I cannot give you a correct amount. It can safely be put down at eight hundred. We captured nineteen pieces of artillery, two battle flags, and of small arms I will make no attempt to guess, only I can tell you that they were more numerously scattered than on the way to Winchester. At all the towns we passed, Edensburg, Mt. Jackson, New Market and Harrisonburg, there are two or three hospitals, filled with wounded, injured in these late battles.

The 47th was in the midst of these fights, yet she has almost escaped unharmed. The casualties were one killed and ten wounded, none dangerously. Of the wounded one was Timothy Snyder, slight in knee, from Co. C. Please inform friends of our safety, that all are well and in the best possible humor over last week’s glorious work.

Early by some means got the remains of his army through Thornton’s Gap, near New Market, and are supposed to be going toward Gordonville. What steps General Sheridan will take for their pursuit is not known. The distance we have pursued the rebels is sixty-five miles, this with the amount of captures, killed and wounded, I have no doubt you will consider a pretty good six day’s work. With respects to friends, yourself and family, I remain,

Yours, Fraternally,
H.D.W.

 

21 October 1864

Letter from the Sunbury Guards.
NEAR MIDDLETOWN, Va., Oct 1, 1864.

DEAR WILVERT:

On Wednesday morning, October 19, at 4 o’clock, the rebels under Early made an attack and by a flank movement nearly undone the glorious work and victories achieved during the last month. Early’s forces were reported, the evening previous to the attack, to have left Fisher’s Hill and were moving up the valley towards Staunton. The report cause less vigilance on the part of some one in command, and at the hour mentioned the Johnneys [sic] came on the left flank of the 8th corps, taking them by surprise, and pouring in such a deadly fire that they were forced to leave their breastworks. The 19th corps was ordered to their support that they (the 8th) might form their broken ranks, which they did, but the terrific fire of the enemy forced them back, and as they were unsupported, they fell from line to line, pouring into the rebel ranks the deadliest fire, until they fell back to 6th corps, who had just come up. The fighting then was desperate, but by some means our flanks were exposed, and our forces fell back 1 mile east of Middletown. Here our men made a decided stand and held their position.

Up to this time we had lost twenty-two pieces of artillery, a portion of our wagon train, ambulances and a number of prisoners. At this critical moment Gen Sheridan who had been on to Washington, arrived. – His presence was received by the troops with cheers that made the valley ring. Gen Custer was so elated that he dismounted and embraced his beloved commander. A General rode up to Sheridan and said, ‘Sir, we are badly whipped, but the boys are not, and to-night they will encamp on their old ground,’ and turned his horse and rode in front of the entire line. When he reviewed his troops and had matters fixed to suit himself, orders was [sic] given to charge. This was done and with such impetuosity that the Johnnies could not stand it, and then commenced the tallest running that has yet been done on the sacred soil by any of the chivalry. Our infantry followed in pursuit across Cedar Creek to Strasburg, when they halted, the cavalry, however, following up the retreat to Harrisonburg, and perhaps further for aught I know to the contrary. We recaptured all our guns, besides twenty-six pieces of the enemy, that they had just brought from Richmond. We re-captured our wagons with one hundred and fifty of theirs, any quantity of small arms and four thousand prisoners. The road to Strasburg showed plainly their eagerness to escape. – Ambulances, caissons, torn horses, small arms, &c., filled the road. The retreat of Early, at Winchester, was a big thing on ice; but this beats anything I ever saw and is beyond my powers of description. It was a great and glorious victory, and shows what confidence the men have in that great little man, Major-General Phil Sheridan.

This victory was, to us, of company C, dearly bought, and will bring with it sorrow to more than one in Sunbury. It is my painful duty to inform you of the and news [sic] and I will now give you our loss in killed wounded and missing.

KILLED.

Sergeant William Pyers,
“             John Bartlow,
Privates – Theodore Kiehl, Jasper Gardner, John E. Will, James Brown, George Keiser.

WOUNDED.

Captain D. Oyster, right arm.
Bellas Rodrigue, slight.
Joseph Walters, slight.
George Blain, thigh.
Jacob Grubb, two wounds in leg.
Jesse G. Green, two wounds in leg.
David Weikel, arm and side.
William Michaels, wrist.
Alex. Given, abdomen.
Richard O’Rourke, face and shoulder.
John Lunken, nose.
Perry Colvin, twice in head, slight.
George Hepler, slight, head.
H. Keiser, thumb.
P. Swinehart, side.
William Finck, leg.

MISSING.

1st Sergeant William Fry, prisoner.
Martin Berger, prisoner.
George D. John,
Isaac Kramer, prisoner.
* B.A. Shiffer,        “ [prisoner].
Joseph Smith,       “ [prisoner].
John W. Firth, lately released from Tyler, Texas.

The loss in the 47th Reg’t. was one hundred and seventy-one (171) killed, wounded and missing. The wounded are getting along well, and I am assured by the Surgeons that none of them are dangerous. – The rest of the boys are well. Please remember me to friends.

Yours, Fraternally,
H.D.W.

* Mr. Shiffer has since written a letter to this place, stating that he was at Baltimore, and was wounded in the thigh. – ED.

 

14 November 1864

Letter from the Sunbury Guards.
NEAR NEWTOWN, VA.    }
November 14, 1864.

DEAR WILVERT:

The day after election the entire army of the Shenandoah left their old camps at Cedar creek and fell back to this place. The reason of this was the scouts reported a force coming down the Luray Valley and the removal enabled General Sheridan to get a better position and establish lines unknown to the enemy. Intrenchments [sic] have been, and are now being constructed that will baffle the ingeniousness of the best rebel Generals, and such, that behind them our forces can repel double their numbers, and if they have the temerity to make an attack, with the number not slain or crippled by our arms, few could escape being capture. – Such is the position we now occupy.

For the last three days a considerable number of the enemy’s cavalry have been bothering our pickets, with the purpose, no doubt, of finding out our position. Our Brigade, (the 2d) was sent out to give the Johnnies a chance for a fight, but on their arrival, the cavalry of Jefferson D. fell back out of range of our rifles. Since then our cavalry went out in several directions for the purpose of giving them fight or gobble them up, the latter if possible. Brigadier General Powell took the road to Front Royal, met the graybacks, whipped them, captured one hundred and sixty prisoners, two pieces of artillery, (all they had) their caissons, ammunition, ambulances, wagon train, and drove the balance ten miles from where they first met. Of the other cavalry we have had no report as yet, but from the fact that they are led by a man who knows not defeat, the daring General Custer, we can expect news that will cheer the hearts of all who are in favor of putting down the rebellion by force of arms.

The election passed of quietly and without any military interference, not the influence of officers used in controlling any man’s vote. In the regiments from the old Keystone, the companies were formed by the first Sergeant, when he stated to the men the object for which they were called to ‘fail to,’ and then they proceeded to the election of officers to hold the election – the boys having the whole control, none of the officers interfering in the least.

The result in the 47th was as follows:

Lincoln.       McClellan.

Company A.               10                         1
Company B.                26                         2
Company C.                29                       15
Company D.                31                       11
Company E.                24                         3
Company F.                18                       16
Company G.                  9                       13
Company H.               10                       24
Company I.                 19                       16
Company K.                18                       20

194                     121
121

Lincoln’s majority   73

 

The 47th was claimed for McClellan, and at Harrisburg we were ranked as Copperheads; in fact two officers, mustered out of service by reason of expiration, boasted in their speeches on the stump at home, that their old regiment was strongly in favor of the hero of the gunboat, Galena. Our vote has proven that they were slightly mistaken, not to use stronger language. The battle at Cedar Creek thinned our ranks by which we lost many votes – this number and those away in hospitals would have increased the Union majority to three hundred.

Col. T. H. Good has resigned and left us for home. Before leaving he issued the following address:

‘Soldiers of the 47th,’ – More than three years ago I assumed command as your Colonel. My relations with you as your commander have been of the most pleasing character. Your fidelity, zeal, soldierly conduct and military bearing worthy of my most hearty commendation, and to leave you, after so long a term, I trust, of mutual confidence, is indeed a painful duty. When the most of you re-enlisted under the call of the President for veterans, it was my intention to have remained with you, and leave now, only, by reason of distasteful Brigade associations. My sense of honor will not permit me to remain longer with an organization in which I have suffered nothing but indignities since our connection with its [sic] as a regiment.

I would gladly have taken each of you by the hand and personally assured you of my confidence of your patriotism, my high appreciation of your military knowledge and to have thanked you for your uniform good conduct and respectful obedience, had not my overpowered feelings told me I was unequal to the task. I take this method, therefore, of bidding the living of the 47th, farewell, and at the same time sympathize with you in your loss of beloved officers and comrades, although dead, they are happy in victory.

Trusting that the rebellion will be speedily suppressed, the authority of the Government re-established, peace re-visit our land each of you be permitted to enjoy the pleasures of home and the smiles of those near and dear. I bid you, and all, a soldier’s farewell.

Col. Good was a most excellent officer and was beloved by the officers and men of his regiment. Although his loss is regretted by all, the boys are most pleased with his successor, Lieut. Col. J. P. Shindel Gobin. This resignation will soon place the Lieut. Colonel in full command of the regiment. I have been informed he has already been commissioned by Gov. Curtin. Promotions come so fast on our old Captain that the boys forget his title and scarcely know how to address him. That those of his company are well pleased you may be assured, for they know his true worth, and are certain if bravery an daring on the field of battle deserves an honor, the shoulders of their late Captain should be graced with the Eagle.

Lieut. Hendricks has just received notice of the death of a member of Co. C., Jacob C. Grubb. Another victim of the battle of Cedar Creek. The boys are well and in good spirits. With respects to friends, yourself and family, I remain,

Yours, Fraternally,
H. D. W.