Chaplain William Dewitt Clinton Rodrock’s Civil War Letters and Reports (47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1862-1865)

Editor’s Note: Additional letters and reports penned by the Rev. William Dewitt Clinton Rodrock during his time as chaplain with the 47th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry are available, and will be added to this section as time permits. Please enjoy the sampling of his letters below, and check back frequently for updates.

Note: The letters shown below were written by Rev. Rodrock during 1862. For letters penned by Rev. Rodrock during subsequent years, click on the year you are researching:

1861       1863       1864       1865

 

William DeWitt Clinton Rodrock, Chaplain, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (Fort Jefferson, 1 December 1863, public domain).

Key West, Florida, 13 March 1862
(published in The Press, Philadelphia, 31 March 1862)

LETTER FROM KEY WEST
[Correspondence of The Press] Key West, Florida, Headquarters 47th Regt. P. V., March 13, 1862:

In my former communication, I promised a more minute description of the beautiful island and city of Key West. I now do so; but cannot refrain, in the first place, from adverting to the glorious victories which have recently crowned our arms in the different divisions of the grand army of the Union. No wonder the whole country is wild with excitement and rejoicing. No wonder that cannons have been fired and bells tolled in every city, town, and hamlet, of the loyal States. For such successes and such victories as have recently crowned our flag with imperishable glory, are enough to thrill every fibre of the Republic and cause its great heart to beat with renewed life and activity. We have now passed the long line of checks and reverses and have made rapid advances on the broad, clear road that leads to complete and abiding triumph. Every true American breathes freer, walks firmer, and hopes brighter.

Whilst the year 1861 was one of trial, suffering, and discipline to the Government, it was to the rebel leaders, in a large measure, one of hope, of promise and success. But how different the opening of the year 1862! In the great cause of the Union, the bow of promise looms up on every side. There has been one continuous stream of success and victory.

To the rebel leaders all is discomfiture, disaster, and dismay. Every star of hope and promise has disappeared—defeat, ruin, and death, are closing around them on every side.

It is a marvelous fact in the history and warfare of the Anglo-Saxon race, that the side which suffers most grievously in the beginning is the side which triumphs most gloriously in the end. In not a single instance, during the last hundred years, has this rule varied. It was so in the “Old French War,” when British arms sustained disaster after disaster, commencing with Braddock’s inglorious defeat, and running on through three campaigns, until the French had acquired possession of every foot of the disputed ground. But at Louisburg the tide turned, and Frontonac, and Ticondoroga, Niagara, and Quebec, soon drove the French from every standing place on the continent. A precisely similar experience attended the British operations in other quarters of the globe. Failure followed failure, but in due time gave place to a course of uninterrupted success by land and sea, such as has seldom fallen to the lot of any nation.

It was so in our Revolutionary war. The side beaten first was the side to win last. During the first twenty months of the war, up to the battle of Trenton, there was a continuous record of American discomfitures and retreats. In fact, there was little to lighten the dark page of that fierce struggle, until the battle of Saratoga and surrender of Burgoyne, the year afterward. Washington, and all the military chiefs of the Revolution, all through the first half of that military period, with all their lofty constancy, almost uniformly evince the painful consciousness of miscarriage and misfortune. The civilized world knows the grand success that at last crowned their efforts.

It was so in our last struggle with England. One of the first events of that war was the shameful surrender of Hull, at Detroit, by which the entire peninsula of Michigan passed into the hands of the enemy. He had been sent to invade and seize Upper Canada, but never was there a more ignominious failure. The first year’s land campaign, throughout, form the most discreditable chapter in our national annals. Yet the struggle, severe as it was, closed with the most memorable of all American victories at New Orleans, and has passed into history as a war completely successful for America.

However it be accounted for, the fact is undeniable, that, with the Anglo-Saxon family, opposite fates precide [sic] at the outset and upshot of their military undertakings; whilst success and victory invariably crown their close. The present wicked and lunatic rebellion is the last, but not the least illustration of this great fact. Much as I desire to elaborate this subject more fully, time and space both require me to leave it for the present, and give you as promised a brief description of

KEY WEST ISLAND AND CITY.

The island is six miles long and two miles broad, and nowhere more than twelve or fifteen feet above the sea level. It is of coral formation, and has a sandy, sterile soil, but in the few spots which are arable the vegetation is extremely rich. The greater part of it is covered with copsewood or low brushes. There are some vegetable gardens which produce through all the seasons, though less in winter than summer. The climate is well adapted for all kinds of tropical fruits. Cocoa nuts, oranges, lemons, pomegranates, pine apples, bananas, etc., arc very abundant. There is an artificial salt pond on the island, 350 acres in extent. On the southwest point there is a lighthouse with a fixed light 70 feet above water.

Key West City, on the same island, is the capital of Monroe county, Florida, and the southernmost settlement belonging to the United States. It is situated in latitude 21 deg. 32 min. N., longitude 81 deg. 48 min. W., and has a population of about 3,000. It has a fine harbor, accessible through several channels by the largest vessels drawing twenty-four feet of water; being the key to the best entrance to the Gulf of Mexico, it is strongly fortified. The principal work of defence [sic] is Fort Taylor, built on an artificial island within the main entrance to the harbor. It is a first-class fort, intended to mount upwards of two hundred guns of the heaviest calibre, and is now in excellent state of defence [sic]. The barracks are large and commodious buildings, forming three sides of a quadrangle, the opening facing the sea. Near these barracks our regiment is now comfortably quartered, and the camp presents a most romantic and picturesque appearance.

The streets of the city are wide and clean; the houses are generally of white frame of the cottage style, are neat and mostly embosomed in shrubbery. The flowers and roses are seen blooming around almost every house during the whole year. There are Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, and Roman Catholic churches, a well arranged marine hospital 100 feet long by 45 feet wide, a customhouse, a court-house, and other public buildings. A large proportion of the population of Key West consists of natives or children of natives of the Bahama islands. These mostly sympathize with Secession, and had it not been for the prompt action of Captain, now Gen. Brannan, his handfull [sic] of men and the co operation [sic] of the loyal citizens, at the outbreak of the rebellion, the island and city with all the fortifications would have fallen into the hands of the rebels.

As a regiment, we have great reason to thank God for his watchful care over us, in sparing our Iives. But with all, the unerring hand of death has not altogether left our ranks untouched. It is my painful duty to announce the death of three of our brethren-in-arms since we have pitched our tents in the sunny South.

Frederick Watt, Co. H, Captain Kacey’s, died in hospital February H, of “brain fever,” contracted on board the Oriental. Aged 23 years. He enlisted in Perry county, Pennsylvania.

Andrew Bellisfield [sic], Co. A, Captain Graeffe’s, died in hospital of erysipelas. Aged 30 years. He was born, raised and enlisted In Northampton county, Pennsylvania.

Henry Beltz, Company B, Captain Rhoades [sic], died in hospital of typhoid fever. Aged 20 years. He was also a native of and enlisted in Northampton county, Pennsylvania.

Thus, three of our number have been summoned from the field of strife and conflict, we trust, to the sweet fields and sunny banks of Canaan above.

They were buried with all the honors of war, and now sleep side by side, till the Resurrection morn. Although no kind father and mother, no affectionate sister and brother, were here to shed the tear of grief and sorrow over the graves of our departed brethren, yet there were few hearts in the ranks that were unmoved, and few cheeks that wore dry, as we deposited their remains in the cold, silent earth.

‘Rest, soldiers, rest; your country comes,
With tender love and true,
Freely to deck your honored beds,
Her banner o’er its turf to spread,
And on your monuments to shed
Fond memory’s pearly dew.’

There are but few of our men now confined to the hospital, and these are doing very well.

Much yet remains to be said of our regiment, this post, etc., but as the mail will leave in a few moments by the Rhode Island, Captain Blanchard, I will close, promising to write again ere long.

‘In Peace or War, on land or sea,
Our flag, the aegis of the free,
Bright emblem of Columbia’s glory I
Shall tell to coming years the story,
How, stout of heart, and strong of hand,
The patriots of our native land
Bore it, the nation’s hope and life,
On tented field, ‘mid fearful strife,
Still on, till [sic] through the sulphurous cloud
It broke in triumph Treason’s shroud.’

Truly yours,

W. D. C. R.,
Chaplain Forty-seventh Regiment, P. V.

 

Beaufort, South Carolina, 30 July 1862
(published in the Valley Spirit, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, 27 August 1862)

To the Friends of Our Soldiers

We are quite conscious of, and fully appreciate the fact, that many persons throughtout [sic] the loyal States are making great sacrifices for the cause of our beloved country, and are doing much for the physical comfort and spiritual welfare of our soldiers.

Much has already been accomplished by the generous donation of tracts, papers and other religious publications. And the hallowed influences thus exerted for the religious culture of the soldier are very great. Eternity alone will reveal their blessed results.

Yet, both our experience and observation clearly demonstrate to us, that, in connection with our religious services in camp, Christian correspondence from Home is doing more for the morals and spiritual advancement of our men in the army, than any other instrumentality employed.

The soldier, whether officer or private, old or young, will read a letter who would not read a tract or religious paper.

First, Because it is addressed immediately to him,

Second, Because it is written by one personally interested in his welfare.

Even, the least paper or tract enclosed to a soldier, by the kindred or friend addressing him, with the request to read it, will incline him to read and re-read it, until its truths are indelibly impressed upon his heart.

The letter, with its contents thus addressed to him will be carefully folded and placed in his pocket for future reference; so that, when out on picket duty or during his leisure moments, he will have something to read and occupy his mind. The impressions made by such letters are like bread cast upon the waters to be found after many days.

We would say then: Parents, write to your sons; wives, write to your husbands; sisters, write to your brothers; children write to your parents, write often, cheerfully and encouragingly. Let your letters abound in words of cheer, and breathing the spirit of Christian sympathy and love.

Kindly admonish your friends to shun the evils incident to camp life. Urge them to lay hold of the sure promises of the Gospel, which will purify, strengthen and save the soul.

In the name and by the authority of the “Great Captain of our Salvation,” we say to pastors and people, write messages of love to our soldiers. We do not ask for long and studied letters, but for simple, home-like cheerful Christian letters.

Christian young ladies, write. Write to all your friends and acquaintances, who have gone forth to battle for our country. Let no feelings of false delicacy deter you in the matter. And in writing, seek to blend the endearments of home and the occurences [sic] of the neighborhood with the story of the cross.

You will thus strew the rugged pathway of the defenders of our country, with flowers of immortal bloom and accomplish much good for the salvation of souls and the glory of God.

‘The seed that, in these few and fleeting hours
Your hand unsparing and unwearied sow,
Shall deck your graves with amaranthine flowers
And yield you fruits divine in heaven’s immortal bowers.’

Yours, Truly
W. D. C. Rodrock, Chap. 47th Reg. P.V.
J. C. Emerson,        ”         7th N.H.V.
C. T. Woodruff,      ”         9th Conn.
H. A. Philbrook,     ”         8th Maine.

 

Beaufort, South Carolina, November 1862
(
handwritten notation by W. D. C. Rodrock in an American Antiquarian Society book of poetry regarding the 30 October 1862 yellow fever death and funeral of Major General Ormsby M. Mitchel in a book of poetry, held in the Stanford University Libraries’ American broadsides and ephemera collection [Series 1, no. 11157], as the electronic resource Lines to the memory of Major General O. M. Mitchell [i.e., Mitchel], who died at Beaufort, S.C., Oct. 30, 1862, author/creator: George Douglas Brewerton)

The funeral of Gen. O. M. Mitchel took place, Nov. 3, 1862. And our 47th Pa. Regt. acted as escort during the solemn services. W. D. C. Rodrock, chaplain of the 47th Pa. Regt., Beaufort, SC.

 

 

Sources:

1. Letter from Key West (letter from “W. D. C. R., Chaplain Forty-seventh Regiment, P.V.”). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Press, 31 March 1862.

2. Lines to the memory of Major General O. M. Mitchell [i.e., Mitchel], who died at Beaufort, S.C., Oct. 30, 1862 [electronic resource], in American broadsides and ephemera [Series 1, no. 11157, author/creator: George Douglas Brewerton, 1862, American Antiquarian Society copy of verses in seventeen stanzas on the death of Major Gen. Ormsby M. Mitchel from yellow fever]. Stanford, California: Stanford University Libraries, electronic text and image data.

3. W. D. C. Rodrock, J. C. Emerson, et. al. To the Friends of Our Soldiers. Chambersburg, Pennsylvania: Valley Spirit, 27 August 1862.

 

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