Twenty -four year old William F. Robinson enlisted as First Sergeant in Company H of the Fourth Michigan Infantry on June 20, 1861 at Adrian, Michigan. He was discharged to accept a promotion to Second Lieutenant on December 12, 1861. He was then commissioned First Lieutenant on July 18, 1862. He was in command of Company F from October 30, 1862 to February 4, 1863 and commissioned Captain during that time on January 27, 1863. William was wounded in action (gunshot in upper right thigh) at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 2, 1863. On May 21, 1864, he resigned and was honorably discharged on account of that wound. The following letters are shared through the courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.
Harrisburg, Penn. June 30, 1861
Dear Father & Mother,
We arrived here last Thursday afternoon. We were all well except a little tired. Only one accident [occurred]. One of the Dexter boys1 fell off of the cars and broke his skull. He is now under the charge of Surgeon Tunnicliff. [He is] doing very well and I think he will recover. Our wagoner is so that he goes around camp on crutches. We arrived at Elmira, N. Y. by the 23rd Reg. N. Y. infantry and took tea with them. There, I caught a very severe cold, and for two days was unable to speak louder than in a whisper. [I] have now recovered. My voice is so that I [can] take command of the Company again, but I am careful and use somebody else’s voice for calling the roll. We leave here for Washington tomorrow morning at 6 o’clock. We have had the honor of being appointed the home guard of Washington. I was in hopes it would have [been] so that we could have gone into battle at once. But I suppose that Old Abe & Gen. Scott2 know best where we are wanted.
Everybody that has seen us has been surprised at our size and at our drill. They say we are the best Reg. that has ever passed through on this route. Ain’t that speaking nobly for the Mich. 4th Reg.? Nothing more, love to all, as I do know what the name of our camp will be in Washington, if you [write] direct your letter to me at in the Washington
Co. H 4th Mich. Reg. Mich. Infantry, Goodbye,
From your affectionate son,
1Private John Rouse of Company K fell from the train near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on June 27, 1861. He received a six inch gash in his head but survived,
2Lieut. General Winfield Scott, in command of the Union army until November 1, 1861
Washington D. C. July 5th / 61
Dear Father & Mother,
I received a letter from Addie the other day enclosing one from Lucy. She says Martha wonders why I have not answered her letter. The reason is because I have never received any from her to answer. Yesterday, I went over to Alexandria to see the Michigan First [Infantry]. I dined with Capt. Witherton 1 and Lady, and with Lieut. Griffith2. They both wished to be remembered to you and to the Jackson folks. I was in the house that [Colonel Elmer] Ellsworth3 was shot in.
Enclosed find a piece of the stair that he fell on and a piece of the bed tick that he died on. Congress assembled yesterday. They appointed a Pennsylvania man for a speaker. I likewise saw Old Abe and Gen. Scott. Frank Gregory is in the Company from Concord [Michigan]. He looks well, also feels well. Enclosed find a roll of the Salem Mechanic’s Light Infantry. The boys were glad to see me. I have no time to write any more. Love to all. Goodbye.
From your affectionate son, William
1Captain William Herbert Withington of Company B First Michigan Infantry
2Lieutenant Eben Griffith of the First Michigan Infantry
3Colonel Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth of the Eleventh New York Infantry was killed by the proprietor of the Marshall House Inn located in Alexandria, Virginia. He was shot after he had removed a Confederate flag from the rooftop. He was a family friend of the Lincolns.
Camp Union, Virginia
Sunday, Sept. 8th /61
Dear Father & Mother,
I received your kind letter last evening and was very glad to hear from home, as I had not heard [from you] for some time. I suppose it does not seem so long to you there as it does to me here alone, all alone. I do not know of anything new to write you. We are about 4 miles from Washington, across the Potomac River. No citizen is allowed to come over on this side without a pass from Gen. McClellan, and we can not go over there without a pass. We might swim the river, but then the [U. S.] Regulars pick up all soldiers that are straying about without a pass. We do not get any papers so we do not know what is going on over in the United States, except by what we hear on Dress Parade. I can not even go out on picket duty as I always have to be with the company. As you see I do not have much time to do anything except my daily work. We have been building a fort here1.
We are now putting up breastworks for about ¾ of a mile to connect with the breastworks that the DeKalb regiment2 is making. They have also built a fort3. Washington is well fortified. It is impossible for the Rebels to collect men enough together to take half of it. Five hundred thousand men could not begin to take it, and I doubt if twice that number could take it. It is impregnable. We are under marching orders, expect to move any hour that we may be called for. 150,000 are stationed near the Chain Bridge, 5 miles from where we are. Our pickets are shot [at] every day. Something will be done before long. When a move is made, it will be a decisive one. Love to all, goodbye. Jerome sends respects, William
[Major] DeGolyer is at home.
There are as spies, quite a number of Rebel women confined in Washington. Their friends look for a speedy delivery.Tell Mother to write to me. I got a letter from Lucy the other day. She was well. I ought to hear from Jerry before long, but I suppose his spare time is all sacrificed with his woman. Poor me, has not got any.
Tell the girls that this flower came out of Mrs. Lincoln’s garden. Capt. Funk has resigned. Capt. Doolittle of Hillsdale has command of the Company.
1The Fourth Michigan Infantry built Fort Woodbury as part of the line of defense around Washington in the summer of 1861.
2The DeKalb Regiment was another name for the 41st New York Infantry.
3Fort DeKalb was erected in August of 1861 and renamed Fort Strong in July 18, 1863.
Fort Woodbury, Virginia
Friday Morning Sept. 27th /61
I received your letters in due season, also those that were sent by Dr. Tunnicliff rec’d last Monday. He told me that Mr. Seaton1 of Jackson was here and would go home in about a week. So I gave him ($45,00) Forty Five Dollars to give to Mr. Seaton to you. Perhaps you have got it already. I have not been over to Washington since we came over on this side of the river. You say you will give it to Mother to put in the bank for me. Before you put one cent in the bank for me, I want you to use it to make your payments on the house and get that off of your hands. I can send home 18 or 20 dollars every month or 35 or 40 every 2 months, as we are paid only once in every 2 months. So any time that you may want to use it, go ahead and use it as if it was your own. I will run the risk of your putting it to a good use. I had my photograph taken with our 3rd and 5th Sergeants. They are not very good, but still I thought that I would take them as they only came to a quarter a piece. I will enclose one of them. The two with me are Sergeant Van-Allen2, and Sergeant Alden3. Van-Allen and I chum together. I will also send you a photograph of one of the Rifle Cannon connected with our Brigade. It is a first rate scene. Love to all. Tell Susie and Mary that I was very glad to hear from them and will write them if I have time. But I do not have much spare time to write in. Remember me to Aunt Cal. And all the rest of the folks. Goodbye. Nothing More from your affectionate son,
P.S. I will write a letter next time that you can have put in the paper. Will
1Believed to be William L. Seaton, who was born in 1823. He died in 1909 and is buried in Jackson, Michigan.
2Sergeant Darwin G. Van Allen of Company H
3Sergeant John Alden of Company H
Minors Hill, Virginia
Sunday Eve. Oct. 27th 1861
Dear Father & Mother,
Not having heard from you for a week or two, and having a leisure time this evening, I did not know of any more profitable way of spending it than in writing a few lines home. I am at the present time enjoying very good health and have no reason to complain, except that I have to work very, very hard, and when night comes I am ready to go to bed and rest myself. We were out on picket duty 2 days last week.
Our second Sergeant1 received a shot on his knuckles and had to have his 2 middle fingers of his right hand taken off. In all probability, he will have to go home. I will have to do about double work until I get another Sergeant broke to harness. Then I can get along very well. Sometimes I get so tired that I almost make up my mind that I will quit and go into the ranks. The only reason I do not is because the next place is a Lieutenancy. If I ever get one though, I shall fairly have earned it, and I shall also be fully competent for the post. I do not think the day is very far distant when I shall receive the appointment. Love to all, goodbye.
From your affectionate son,
1Sergeant Charles T Jeffers of Company H was shot in the right hand while out on picket duty and was discharged for disability on December 13, 1861.
Minors Hill, Virginia
Sunday Nov. 24th/ 61
I received [your] kind letter in due season. We are still in the same old place waiting. When we shall move, or where to, I do not know. There is a great deal of sickness in camp at present, mostly fever, intermittent and typhoid, [is] considerable in our campaign. But as [of] yet, I am all right, with the exception of a very bad cold, not bad enough though to keep me from doing duty. Last Wednesday we had the largest Review ever witnessed in America, [with] 7 Divisions of the Grand Army of the Potomac. It was composed of some 90 regiments, and there were over 60, 000 soldiers present. We were reviewed by Gen. McClellan, Pres. Lincoln, Wm. H. Steward1, and the other big guns. I think it was the grandest sight that I ever beheld. We were paid off last Thursday. I got $40.00, gave $5.00 towards sending the body of one of our boys home (he died a week ago yesterday of typhoid fever), [and] the balance I shall keep with me this time, as if nothing happens I shall need it before another month to buy me a new suit of clothes with. If I don’t need it for that, I shall get me quite a number of little, though necessary, things, such as gloves, boots, etc., etc., which Uncle Sam does not provide us with, and they are very essential to our comfort and our health. Last time we were paid off Co. H sent to Mich. over $2,000.00. If the boys send $500.00 this time, they will do more than I think they will. Nothing more.
Love to all,
From your son,
1William Henry Seward was the Secretary of State on President Lincoln’s cabinet.
Minors Hill, Virginia
Sunday Dec. 29th /61
I received your kind letter of the 24th inst. with the check for $25.00 last evening, and am very much obliged as I have been completely strapped and have had to borrow to keep up with the times. The Captain1 and I made out our Muster Rolls for November & December. I was put down on them as 2nd Lieut. By which [that] meant [that] I shall receive Lieutenants pay from the time of McConnell’s2 resignment, which will be over $30.00 more than my pay as orderly would have been. And that will help greatly towards fitting me out. I shall have to have everything new from cap to boots, sword, belt, and sash. I shall go down next week and get measured for my clothes which will cost about $45.00, boots $12.00, cap and eagle $5.00, sword, sash, and belt about $30.00. And then I will be all rigged. When I get them all, then I will have my photograph taken and send [it] to you.
I have not seen Col. Woodbury3 yet to speak to him, but my promotion rests more with my Captain than anyone else, as he has a great deal of influence, and the Col. will allow him to have whoever he says he wants, if he is only competent and the Capt. looks very favorably on me and tells me that it rests with myself, [and] that if I have a mind to learn theoretically, so that I can teach it to others, what I now know practically that I will get along well enough. He says that he is in favor of having our officers from our own Company, that we have had such bad luck so far with them (our officers) that he is not disposed to have any more permanently settled, until he is assured that they are competent> But I do not feel uneasy on that score, as if study and labor will make anyone so. I am determined that it shall make me so. I improve all of my time when I am not drilling [or] in study. I tent with Lieut. Lamson4. He is acting as our 1st Lieut. He is from Detroit, a mighty fine fellow, in fact, I associate with the officers, and am looked on by them as a brother officer. [On] New Years I shall commence boarding with them, as it [is] cheaper for us to board than it is to keep house. We can get board for $3.50 a week and it would cost much more to keep a servant and arrange for cooking and everything else. And another thing, most of the officers board with this man, and by so doing, it continually throws us together(at meal time). Nothing more this time. Love to all. We go out on picket tomorrow to be gone 2 days. Christmas has passed and a Merry one it was. Our Capt. gave the boys a nice dinner, and a nice time we had. He is a fine man and the boys all love him. Our camp was beautifully decorated with evergreen, our streets were all arched in some way. I got up the design and built our front. Below I will give you a slight cut of it.
The cut is not very good but when it was up all trimmed around with evergreen, it looked very pretty, so everybody said, and what everybody says must be true. I hope you all passed a Merry Christmas and I wish you all a Happy New Year, from your affectionate son, William
1Captain Charles Camp Doolittle of Company H
2Second Lieut. William H. McConnell of Company H would officially resign on January 2, 1862.
3Colonel Dwight A. Woodbury commanded the 4th Michigan Infantry from it’s formation in May of 1861 until his death at Malvern Hill, Virginia on July 1, 1862.
4First Lieut. Alvan C. Lamson of Company H
Miner’s Hill, Virginia
January 28th 1862
I received your kind letter last Friday evening and was very glad to hear from you, as I had not heard from home before since you sent me the check. I have not heard from Jerry in nearly six weeks. I do not know why he has not written me as I wrote to him last. Everything goes on in camp with the usual quietude. We get our pay tomorrow and with what money I receive, [and] with what I already have on hand, I shall be able to fit myself out as an officer, without making another draw on my banker.
When we get paid off I shall go to Washington and get my things, and then I will have my photograph taken, and send [copies] to my friends and relations. I have not heard from Dubuque for some time, but I suppose that it is because I have neglected to write. Mattie wrote me for a lock of my hair, and as I had had it cut a few days before I got her letter, I have been waiting for it to grow so that I could send her some. I do not think that there is the least doubt but that I shall get my commission in due course of time. There has been quite a number of promotions lately in our regiment and I suppose that we will all receive our commissions at the same time. If only I knew when Charley Damon1 was to be in Washington, I would go over and see him, as it is almost impossible for a stranger to get a pass over this side of the river.
Nothing more. Love to all. Good night from your affectionate son,
P. S. Accept my sincere thanks for your kind advice and rest assured that I will try and profit by it. Why do not some of my younger brothers or sisters write to me? I should be very happy to hear from them, and a letter from my Mother would be received by me with many many thanks. For all that I am so far scarcely an evening passes but that I wonder what you are all doing there at home. Write soon to your son.
Lieut. Wm. F. Robinson
Co. H 4th Regt. Mich. Inf.
Washington D. C.
Our regiment has got new rifles. They are the Springfield Rifle Musket, the best arm in the service. I was down with the Adjutant and a few other officers this morning shooting at a target, and they can’t, any of them, beat me. In fact, I do not think that there are 6 men in the whole regiment that can. I can put a ball within 4 inches of the center of the target most every time, off hand 35 rods2. That is nothing though. All it needs is a true eye, and a steady nerve, and I have both.
1This may be a reference to Charles L. Damon of the First Michigan Cavalry
235 rods is equal to a distance of 577.5 feet
Sunday March 16th, 1862
I received your letter in due course of time. I also received one this morning from Addie. We left our camp last Sunday for Fairfax Court House.
There was a general movement of the Army of the Potomac, but the Rebels did not dare to face us. They even left their stronghold at Bull Run and Manassas. We only went to Fairfax [and] stopped there until yesterday, when we had orders to march back to Alexandria to take the boat to go somewhere [though] no one knows where.
Goodbye in great haste. Love to all,
Camp Winfield Scott,
Near Yorktown April 17, 1862
I received your letter in due season, likewise one from Addie, the other day, also one from Jerry yesterday. There is nothing new here. We are still encamped within easy shelling distance of the enemy. We are kept pretty busy, building roads and bridges across the river and doing picket duty. There was a big fight at the left of our lines yesterday. The cannonading was kept up all day and night and they are still at it. We expect to be called out at any moment. I am ready. We are going to have an awful fight here, one that will put Fort Donelson, Island No. 10, & Corinth, all in the shade. Many a poor fellow has got to bite the dust. It may be me, and it may not, but if it is, rest assured that I shall fall doing my duty. At present I do not feel as though I should fall, but I may feel differently when we get well at it. This is their key to Richmond. Open this door and the way is straight, nothing to stop us. They (the enemy) have concentrated all of their force at this point. They can have no less than 100,000 men here.
The sound of the shells is beautiful, the best music that I [have] ever heard. It is the excitement that makes it so. There must have been a great deal of slaughter yesterday [though] we have not heard yet. And although [it is] only 4 miles to our left, you will get the news before we do. We are not allowed to go out of camp, in fact, we do not want to go out, because we do not know what moment we will be ordered on to the conflict. It may be several days yet before we have the general fight. Nothing more. Love to all from your son,
Write soon, direct to Lieut. Wm. F. Robinson
Co. H 4th Mich. Regt.
Washington D. C.
May 25th 1862
In Camp Sunday Morning
I wrote you last night after the fight, and as I had no time to write any particulars, I will now give them; We were called up yesterday morning at 3 ½ o’clock and told to get our breakfast, and be ready to go out on a reconnoitering excursion at 5 a.m. with no luggage but our canteens filled with water. We, being on the reserve, passed through those divisions in advance of us out beyond our pickets, with nothing but a squadron of cavalry to support us. On we went, down into the swamp single file, about a mile further [we] came out on the open field [and] sent Company A out as skirmishers. On we went, [and] in a few minutes our skirmishers commenced firing. We drove in their outer pickets of 4 companies, onto the reserve of two regts. just across the Chickahominy River; half a mile further they had a whole Brigade. We had quite a little fight, we on one side of the river against 2 regts. on the other. Our boys were too much for them [so] they began to fall back.
We found that the river was only up to our breast [so] over we went, 7 companies of us holding the cartridge boxes above our heads to keep the powder dry. And after they got a footing in water knee deep, then the slaughter commenced. The unerring aim of our boys told awfully. We have the Springfield Rifles which are the best pieces in the service. We only had 1 man killed (Piper of Co. B)1and 7 wounded (4 Co. B) (1 Co. C) (1 Co. A) & (1 Co. I), another of Co. B has since died of his wounds2. We brought in 37 prisoners, and the killed and wounded that we left on the field is estimated at 150. We dare not go out in the open field to get them as it would show our force, and we had done all we were sent to do, and not knowing our number they dare not bring their Brigade down on us. And they dare not come within range of our rifles, because as soon as one did, he immediately fell on his face and lay there. One of Gen. McClellan’s staff was with us when we were marching back. The Gen. rode by us with his head uncovered. He spoke to us and told us we had done nobly. He telegraphed Gen. Porter that the Mich. 4th had covered themselves with honor. But enough of that, you will most probably see accounts of it in the papers. It was nothing but a skirmish, but it was a big one! Our officers did nobly. Col. Woodbury was just as cool as though he had been sitting in the Brackett House3. He had charge of the whole affair. He got off his horse and waded across the river and got as wet as anyone. His voice was firm and sound, not a tremble to it. When Lt. Col. Childs took the prisoners to Gen. Porter, the Gen. took one of Lt. Col. Childs hands in both of his, and said to him, “The Mich. 4th is covered with glory”. [Then] says Lt. Col. Childs, “They are covered with mud and water too, Gen.” None of our Company were hurt. We were not sent across the river at first. The three center companies were kept for a reserve, until the Rebels came down on us again. Then we went over and covered the retreat of the others. Our company got in a few shots though that told [though]. They took deliberate aim and then fired. We got all of our wounded [back] and all we dared to of theirs. No [church] services today until afternoon, when our dead will be buried.
Love to all, goodbye,
Write soon to your affectionate son,
1 Private Abel M. D. Piper of Company B
2 Franklin Drake of Company B
3 The Bracket House was a 100 room hotel in Adrian, Michigan, that was built by James Brackett in 1859, at the cost of $20,000. The regiment’s commander, Colonel Dwight Woodbury ran the hotel at one point prior to the war.
Camp near New Bridge
June 10th 1862
I received your letter of the 29th ult. a few days ago, and was very glad to hear that you had received my commission all safe. The Left Wing of the Army had a big fight a week ago last Saturday & Sunday but they got cleaned out, the loss on both sides was awful, when Little Mac1 heard that they had driven Casey’s2 Division nearly 3 miles, he told Gen. Heintzelman3 to recover the lost ground or else lose every man under his command doing it.
So when Heintzelman saw how things were, he said “Soldiers, I guess we will try cold steel on them”, and gave his orders for the different brigades to close in on them, and we drove them back over more ground than they had gained, with nothing but our bayonets. They can’t stand it, the loss was terrific on both sides. You most probably have seen by the papers a better account than I could give you as our wing of the army was not there. We will have to fight in front of Richmond, and it will be a bloody battle. Nothing more, goodbye.
Love to all from,
1“Little Mac” was a common nickname (based on his height) that many Union soldiers had for General George B. McClellan.
2Brigadier General Silas Casey was in command of the Third Division in the Battle of Seven Pines, Virginia on May 31st and June 1st, 1862.
3Brevet Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman
Camp Near New Bridge
June 10, 1862
Dear Father, Mother, Sisters and Brothers, and all the rest that I owe letters to,
How are you all? Now, do not say that I owe a letter to any of you. I am enjoying as good health as I have [had] at any time since I have been in the army/ [I] am neither sick nor wounded, but [I] do not know how soon I may be, so with lots of love to all, I remain yours affectionately,
Lieut. William F. Robinson
P. S. I expect that now as I have squared up all my letters to have separate ones from Father and Mother, Mattie, Charley, Lucy & J. K., Addie & the little ones. And they shall all be answered direct to the ones that write them. William
Camp Near New Bridge
June 13th 1862
Dear Brother Addie,
I received your letter of the 5th inst. yesterday enclosing the $10.00 [that I had] sent for. [I] was very glad to hear from you, as I always am. You did not say anything about yourself in it. What are you doing now? [Are you] still at working the same place? I expect that you look very impatiently in the papers for some news from the right wing of the army. Well, it will not be long now as everything is about ready. The New York Herald is the paper to find the news in. We have a reporter for it right here with our Brigade. I buy two papers every day, the Herald and the Philadelphia Enquirer. They only cost 15 cents apiece. That is all the reading matter we have here, except when someone sends a paper from home, which has not been very often as late. Bent. Kennedy1 was over to see me yesterday evening. So was Ran. Pool2. I f you see his people tell them that he is all right, enjoying first rate health, and likes the service very much, and says he would not take a discharge now if he could get one. He tells me that he is never sick, except when he has to go on as Sergeant of the Guard in rainy weather.
Goodbye, Love to all.
From your affectionate brother, Bill
P. S. Dr. Tunnicliff, Capt. Griffith3, and all the Jackson boys want to be remembered to Father and the rest.
From W. F. R.
1Corporal J. Benton Kennedy of the First Michigan Infantry
2Private Ransom F. Pool of the First Michigan Infantry
3Captain Eben Griffith of the First Michigan Infantry
Camp Lincoln, Va.
Wednesday June 25, 1862
I received your kind letter of the 12th inst. yesterday, so if it takes my letters as long to go to you as it takes yours to come to me. [So] the news that I write must be very stale before you get my letters. But for all of that, I will still keep the wheel a moving. There is not any news of importance here that I ought to write about. We are having heavy thundershowers here most every day, with a great deal of cannonading on the side of the Rebels. They want to [get the] feel of us and find out where our batteries are, but we pay no attention to them as long as they do us no damage, and only waste their own powder and shell. But if I am not very much mistaken, there will be a heavier storm than has ever been in this part oft the country before, not only louder thunder, but the rain will be cannon balls and shells, weighing from 30 to 200 lbs., and they will fall as quick as (can’t tel the no.) siege guns can throw them. They are almost ready. I do not know of anything that I can tell you except that the pickets are very friendly and exchange papers most every day.
Love to all. Goodbye from your affectionate son,
Just consider the rest of this sheet full and then it will make a long letter. If there was anything to write about I would fill it up as I like to receive a good long letter myself. As it is, I do not write more than half a sheet now to anyone in hopes there will be something to write about before long. Dr. Tunnicliff1 was over yesterday [and] wished to be remembered to you. All of the 1st [Michigan Infantry] boys are well. Capt. Pomeroy2 has returned from his sick leave. The trip has evidently done him good as he never looked better in his life. I rec’d a letter from Jerry yesterday containing photographs of himself and his wife. This is not a good one and as I have never seen her I can not tell [if] she is a very good looking woman though. I wonder how my wife gets along. If you see her, just write and let me know. I do not know but that I write too often, but if I do it is because I have not got as many little “billet doux3 “ to attend to as I used to have. You say you are making a [photograph] album. I am going to when I get home. I have about 12 or 15 [photographs]on hand now to commence with. There, I have made quite a letter.
1Dr. Joseph W. Tunnicliff was the original surgeon for the Fourth Michigan Infantry before he was transferred to become the surgeon of the First Michigan infantry on August 20, 1861.
2Captain Edward Pomeroy of Company E of the First Michigan Infantry
3Billet Doux – a love letter
Harrison’s Landing, Va.
Aug. 4th 1862
Enclosed please find draft for One Hundred and Fifty Dollars ($150.00). Please have it cashed. It is worth some premium, and send Jerry $50.00 (Fifty Dollars) of it. And let Mother keep the rest. All [is] well, goodbye, love to all.
From your affectionate son,
P. S. Perhaps I shall have to use more money than I have kept. If I do, I will write you so that it can get to me in time to use it. I have just got me a nice $30.00 coat and if I get a 1st Lieut. Commission, my straps will cost $7.00 more. So you see how the money goes.
Harrison’s Landing, Va.
Aug. 7th 1862
Yesterday I sent you a draft for $150.00, but as I have had to use what I had left and want more. I got twenty five dollars off Mr. Wm. P. Stiles1, Ware Master of the 1st Mich. [Infantry] and gave him an order for his wife to draw on you for it. Please pay it, and oblige me much. The First Michigan [Infantry] got paid off yesterday and I thought this to be the best way of getting it, as it would save any danger of loosing it on the way for both of us. Therefore, when you get the draft cashed, send Jerry $50.00, give Mother $75.00 to pay on [your] house, and keep the other $25 to pay this order to Mrs. Wm. P. Stiles, whenever presented and oblige your affectionate son,
P. S. I have bought a $30.00 dress coat and a $10.00 sack coat, besides paying up my mess account. I think that today I shall get me a new sword.
1Corporal William P. Stiles of the First Michigan Infantry
Camp Near Falmouth, Va.
December 18th 1862
My Dear Father,
I rec’d your letter of the 8th inst. yesterday evening, and [I] was as usual, glad to hear from home. I wrote you a short note on Monday to let you know that I had passed through the battle1 and come out all right. Thinking that you would like to know something concerning the battle, I will give you a little idea of it. We left this camp at daybreak Thursday morning [December 11th] and marched to Fredericksburg. Our artillery was on the heights on this side of the river, bombarding the city and kept up a continual roar of artillery all day until night closed in. We laid down in the mud and went to sleep. Two companies of the 7th Mich. [Infantry] crossed in boats and drove the Rebel sharpshooters back so that the bridge was [able to be] laid down. Troops [were] crossing the next day under the cover of our artillery. We still laid back in the mud, [while] troops [were] crossing very cautiously all night. [We] were called up at day light, got our breakfast, expecting to cross immediately, but did not get orders until about noon [Saturday, December 13th].
[We] got across the river about three o’clock p.m. [and] marched up the street and the turned onto another that the Rebs had an enfilading fire on. And they just gave it to us hot and heavy. But we still kept on, and turned [on] another street that took us out to the suburbs. There, we were protected by a small bank, under that we got into position. Then came the order to charge the railroad. Our Brigade charged and took it. Col. Sweitzer2, who was acting Brigadier, started ahead on horseback, swinging his old hat on his sword above his head, saying at the time, “Come on boys. There is nothing here that will hurt us”. And we followed him and took the RR. He was shot in the leg and had I horse killed, one of his aids was killed, another wounded slightly in three different places, and the other had his horse shot under him. Still, the 2nd Brigade kept on across an open level plane, exposed to a crossfire of artillery and a front fire of musketry, until we reached a slight rise of ground behind which we lay down and fought until after dark. We were in the right with Sumner3 and had the hardest fighting to do, and lost the most men. Our Division alone lost 1600 killed, wounded, and missing. At night we lay down with the dead and dying and went to sleep. It was awful. We had left our blankets back [in the rear], and to keep warm, the men would find a dead man that was covered up with a blanket, and with a one on each side of the dead, spread the blanket over them to keep frost out. I noticed particularly one dead horse that had not yet got cold, covered with men’s hands and ears [trying] to keep warm, still it was done with a good relish. But all that was nothing compared to the groans of the wounded and dying, their cry was continually “Water, a little water, Oh for mercy sake come and take me off.” And we could not leave our post to help them as the destiny of the army depended on our holding our position. The 1st Mich. [Infantry] was right by us. They lost 7 officers, we only 2. Brent Kennedy, the best one, died the next day. I was down to see him before he died. I believe that he was embalmed and sent home. He was a brave man and feared no danger. I must say that I think that we passed under the heaviest fire fire that I ever saw and a great deal heavier than I ever wish to see again! The next day was the Sabbath, commonly a day of rest, so not to break it we lay on our bellies all day. (I must stop now to drink a hot whiskey punch. All right now, I do not often touch it but when I do , it being just about this time of day, I thought that I would stop). We were relieved about 9 p.m. and marched back to the city where we took lodgings, and I will say this, that as much as I have traveled in the last 4 years, that I never before went into a place as large as Fredericksburg, and took up lodgings on the sidewalk. But having been on the battlefield 35 hours with very little sleep and no blankets, I must say that I enjoyed my rest hugely! You say that there is only $400.00 due and that you will pay $100.00 before the 1st [of] Jan., well by the 1st [of] Jan. I shall have $600.00 due me by Uncle Sam. And my debts will not exceed $250.00 or $300.00, and I think that [the] best way would be for you to see after Mr. Hibbard4 and see what he will do for you [if] you pay all [of it] a year sooner, and I will let you have it. As for me, I do not want to save one cent for myself until I can see you settled with a home of your own all paid for. And I shall feel very much offended if you do not allow me to pay it up. And [I] do not ever wish [for] you to speak of such a thing as giving me a mortgage for it again. I think it is [a] pretty “how do you do” if I cannot give away or rather lend you $200.00 or $300.00 without having anything said about it. How about the old S. S. Johnson matter, is that all right? If not, I think that I can get plenty of his papers for a mere song, say 10 cents on the dollar. But if it will be all right anyway, I will not try to get it. If not, I will see what one of his old creditors will do for me. Please let me know how it stands, but do not ever pay him one cent without letting me know. Where is he now? Do you know? I heard that he was in the state prison in Wisconsin. I wonder where Brad Williams is, and how he is getting along? I shall expect to see Addie before many days more.
I told [Lieut] Colonel Lumbard5 that the Gov. had rec’d no official notice of Col. Childs6 resignation and I guess he will write him again today. Our commissions have come on, but there was not any for me, so Col. L. has sent for my 1st Lieut’s. Again, and I do not think it will be long before he sends for a Capt.’s commission for me. I think that I am all right on the goose, without anything more being said to the Gov. if not, I will let you know. I rather think that we will now go into winter quarters. I took Company F through the late battle and I received praise for the manner that I behaved, so did all of our officers. Goodbye, love to all,
1The battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia lasted from December 11-15th of 1862.
2Colonel Jacob B. Sweitzer of the 62nd Pennsylvania Infantry served as temporary commander of the Second Brigade at Fredericksburg.
3General Edwin Voss Sumner
4Believed to be Jackson, Michigan area businessman and extensive real estate owner, Daniel Brown Hibbard who was elected as mayor of Jackson for one year in 1865.
5Lieut. Colonel George W. Lumbard assumed command of the Fourth Michigan Infantry on November 25, 1862.
6Colonel Jonathan Childs was in command of the 4th Michigan Infantry upon Colonel Dwight Woodbury’s death at Malvern Hill, Virginia on July 1, 1862. Childs resigned on November 25, 1862.
In bed July 22nd /63
I rec’d your kind letter of the 15th inst. this noon, and as I wrote you yesterday that I had not heard from any of you, I thought it my duty to acknowledge the receipt of it immediately. As I wrote you [previously], it is nothing but a flesh wound, and I shall be able to walk with crutches in a little over a week1. I sat up to have it dressed this morning for the first time. There is no need of Mother’s coming down here, but I thought that if you had time that it would be a pleasant trip for you, and that you would assist me about obtaining a leave. I should be very happy to see Mother, but as far as nursing is concerned, I have the best. I use nothing but cold water. I was washed all over the first week twice a day [and] now every morning. My wound is doing beautifully. It has nearly stopped separating and has begun to granulate all over. Goodbye, love to all,
P. S. I will write more when I can sit up.
1William was wounded by a gunshot in the upper portion of his right thigh at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 2, 1863.