The letters and diaries of Lieutenant Philip R. Woodcock
121st Regiment, New York State Infantry
"Upton's Regulars"
September 4, 1862-November 9, 1865

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dear Roby, It's Christmas...

"My Dearest Wife....tomorrow is Christmas..."

I decided to look through Philip's letters that were written around Christmas time.  There was no letter written in 1862 around that time but if you go to my post of July 22 of this year, you will see his last letter of that year.  It's titled "Zip & Whistle on the Battlefield".  I did find one written on Christmas Eve the following year, 1863 and a diary entry on Christmas Day. 

He wrote in his diary on Friday, December 25, 1863:

"Christmas today.  Very cold but pleasant[.]  Had Hard Tack for Breakfast ~ Got up a lot of wood[.]  Commenced making me a Chair[,] Drew soft bread &c ~ Had some Ale issued out to us for Merry Christmas but not much of it[,]  made out Clothing Requisition again also a return of Ordinance Stores"

His letter the day previous was filled with disappointment:

"Camp of 121st NYS Vols.
Near Brandy Station
Dec 24th 1863

My Dearest Wife

Although I have no letter from you to answer yet I will write ~ I am well, although badly dissapointed (sic) ~ They have ceased giving furloughs again[.]  they are played out for the present so there goes all my expectations[.]  I had anticipated a great time but it is all knocked in the head ~ It is pretty hard but it cant be helped ~ I do not know the reasons of the sudden stoppage but I think it is because it has a tendency to stop Re-enlistments or it is because so many Regts that are enlisting over again are agoing home and it would weaken the Army ~ but I dont see why they should be afraid of that..."

He actually complained on and on in this letter--so much so that I will skip some of it but the sentiments were:

"...I am sure if Lee should attack us we could whip him on fair ground..."
"...I hope & think it very probably that they will soon give furloughs again..."
"...I should have been home about the 10th or 12th of January had this order not come..."
" can imagine how dissapointed I was..."
"...I shall have to be content but it seems pretty rough..."

I could feel his disappointment and almost despair that he was trying to cover for his wife.  The letter goes to practical things after that, mostly about her making him a new shirt and ordering new boots.  (I'll detail that letter later.) 

I want to close with his final paragraph in the letter...

"...Tomorrow is Christmas ~ know I wish I was with you.  We shall buy a pie for tomorrow. The Drum Corps has got a lot baked up for 40 cts.  Kiss the Baby for me, one for you, good bye

Yours truly and affectionately

P R Woodcock"

Merry Christmas and A Most Happy New Year from myself and the letters of Philip R. Woodcock to his wife Roby.

Please look for my New Year's Post next...

Hope to see you then!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Change of Plans

"...Our Spirits Soared..."

I am certainly not a military specialist and have a limited knowledge of the actual "strategy" of a war but I do know the extent that which troop movements and days/timing of attacks is extremely important to the success or failure of a battle.  The Generals at the time of the Civil War planned vast campaigns to take back land and moved their troops into and out of various battles, some with great success and others with great loss.  This particular battle that Philip wrote about just after Thanksgiving was one of strategic moving that most certainly saved his life...

The continuation of the letter of December 4, 1863:

"after daylight the Generals all went out to plan the attack & view the ground ~ They see the danger of it & see the thousands that would fall and wisely decided not to storm the position ~ as soon as we learned it wasnt we glad (sic) ~ Lord only knows how thankfull we were[,] our spirits raised & had it not been such freezing weather would have felt good but we were so chilled through & so hungry that we was miserable & we knew we would have to stay untill after dark as if the Enemy knew that we were there they would warm us up with shell (humor?) but fortunately they were as much in the dark as we wanted as soon as it was too dark for them to see us we went out of there in a hurry[.]  I tell you what fires we had that night & what Suppers ~ The next day there were no movements made & the night after we withdrew & marched all night & uncrossed the Rapidan at Germanier Ford & got breakfast & moved in a little farther & lay back for the Teams & Artillery to get out the way here our Rations gave out although we was supposed to have one day on hand but being up so much nights we eat them all up[.]"

I would imagine the stress of the situation, bitter cold and uncertainty had them eating everything they could get their hands on.  He continues:

"I was not so bad off as some as I had been saving but some of our boys went all day without a mouthfull of anything but parched corn & beef ~ There I saw Bruce [,] the 76th marched by us & he stopped to see me I was glad enough to see him he looks as rugged and though as can be we stayed there all day & night and the 3rd marched back in our old Camp[.]  We was hungry & tired enough I tell you too but we got Rations & yesterday it was reported that the Rebs was advancing on us & I had to get up in the night & draw 3 days rations & issue but I guess it was only a small alarm ~ We think we will go into Winter Quarters now as I dont believe anything farther can be done this winter ~ I dont know what we made the advance for but one thing I do know that is the Army of the Potomac done more than ought to have been asked of them ~ it has been a rough time for us & filled up the Hospitals again ~ perhaps I can tell in my next Letter more of what we accomplished ~ I am on this campaign ~ I hope operations are suspended for the present here but I am thankfull to God for sparing my life & we must still hope all things will turn out well ~"  (and now finally a mention of that first Thanksgiving!) "Where did you spend Thanksgiving[?]  did you think of me [?]  that day it was a hard one for us ~ but thank God it was no worse[.]  Give my love to all write soon & Remember me Kiss the Baby for me  I will write again soon & if we stay for the winter maybe I can get furlough till then Good bye my dearest one[.]

Yours &c
Phil R Woodcock"

And on my earlier post of the beginning of this letter I mentioned that this last page also included a long post script--written upside-down
in between the sentences that I've just transcribed to you.  Here is what the rest of his letter said:

"I expect a lot of letters tonight if the mail comes[.]  If we go in winter quarters here we expect a good time as we shall build splendid shanties & get good Living[.]  I wrote a letter to Martha about some shirts that we wanted made & sent to Nubern.  Phil Van Horne & myself ~ I supposed you was out in Warren at the time and so I though would be sure ~ Nubern has written to his Mother about them[.]  What do you think about them would it be best[?]  The cost us here $5.00 apiece & I think that they would be cheaper got (illegible on the crease of the paper here) It [is] considerable warmer now than it was when we was in the Wilderness[.]  The mail has come in and of course I shall have a big one ~ They all send respects to you ~ You will have to get me another Diary for 1864 as this is almost full then I will send it to you[.]  Get me a good large one if you can as this is plenty small enough[.]  Dont forget me[.]  Morning of the 30th November I thought I never should see you again my thoughts were very painful ~ I prayed to God to protect you & Georgie I certainly never expected to get out of it ~ all the Generals concur in saying that 20 men of our Regt could not have got up there but it is over with now & I must forget it ~ There was a good many of our wounded on that campaign that froze to death but I must close so good bye write soon"

The underlining is my own.  His fear and relief are palpable.

So there you have it ~ the conclusion of my great-great grandfather's first Thanksgiving!  

Please join me again for the next sequential letter back in Winter Quarters of early 1863!

Hope to see you then!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The First Official Thanksgiving, 1863

I'm slow to finish up this letter, but never-the-less, want to do it before Christmas.  To backtrack to my previous post, Philip wrote this letter on Dec. 4th, 1863 after surviving a near battle and frozen conditions for several days, one of which was the very first official Thanksgiving holiday in America.  

I'll let Philip continue to describe his "holiday":

"We all laid on our Arms in line of Battle untill one oclock A.M. when we was routed out & marched down toward the Left through the woods & brush about daylight[.]  we joined the Right of the 2nd Corps[,]  The 152nd was there & on the same Line with us that is the 2nd Line of Battle ~ about 7 oclock we started out to find the Rebs[,] it did not take long & we skirmished with them some 3 or 4 miles[,] they falling back slowly near Wilderness Church and Robertson Tavern[.]  They made a stand & they had a splendid position ~ It rained pretty hard about this time and did all day it was mighty very uncomfortable as we got awfull wet ~ we finally formed out Lines and
I guess the Rain was all that stopped the attack that day ~ On the Right of us they was fighting pretty heavy ~ Our Supplies here run short but by a great Effort they got us up our Rations all except Pork we got nothing but Beef all the while ~ I had to get up in the night and draw the Rations ~ On Sunday we laid under Arms expecting to have an Engagement but there was nothing done ~ I think that Gen. Meade will not fight Sunday if it can be postponed ~ The Rebs had got a good position and we could see that it would have to be taken by storm and we knew that it would fall to us to do that and we dreaded it bad ~ It had cleared off very cold & we knew that tomorrow would see the Bloodiest day upon record for it had Leaked out that the 5th & 6th Corps had to storm the Fortifications ~ The next morning at one oclock we was called up & got Coffee & was marched very still a little farther to the Right & through our Picket Line & got in a piece of woods close to the Rebs & there laid down and waited untill daylight[.]  O how cold it was & no fires was allowed..."

His third page of the letter goes on to describe the plan of attack:

"The plan of attack was this:  The 5th & 6th Corps was to charge the Rifle Pits together [,] we formed 4 lines of Battle the best Regiments in each Brigade was selected to form the first line and make the charge ~ Col Upton who commands our Brigade selected our Regt ~ it was a high honor but exceedingly dangerous to us as the first line would not have many left when they got up ~ We had a good many Batteries in position and they was to open & shell them at 8 oclock for one hour and at 9 oclock we was to make the Charge ~ I tell you there was a good many pale sober faces that morning as the time drew near ~ We could see what we had to do & it was worse than we expected[.]  There was a plain field to cross then a piece of woods so filled with underbrush & felled Trees that our Skirmishers could not get through & then a wide ditch that the Rebs had dug out and drove sharp sticks in to annoy us when we crossed[.]  These sticks were so fixed that 1/2 of us would have been impaled on them in crossing & now then it was so cold that day that a wounded man who could not get off the field would die in 3 or 4 hours as the 5th Corps had 4 freeze to death that day after they got asleep.  Now do you wonder we dreaded it [?] "

And then, preparation for death...

~ There was more preparations made that day for death than any other time I ever saw[.]  I could see cards thrown away and men starting off alone in the woods to pray ~ We all settled up our world affairs that is left our money &c in the hands of those who would not get in the fight ~ I tell you the suspense of those 2 or 3 hours was awfull ~ We was suffering extrememly from the severe cold we almost froze & we had to keep in motion constantly ~ It will take a good while before we get over that chill ~"

I'll stop there for today.  Please come back soon and check for the rest of the letter!


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Not Really Thanksgiving

"I am permitted by God's mercy to write you ~"

I had foolishly thought I could get an entry in last week during Thanksgiving, but with family, cooking and work, it was impossible.  I also admit to being a little overwhelmed with this next letter as it is a long 4 page one, not only written on legal sized paper, but in Philip's way...he also wrote upside-down in the margins.  But, not only did he do it in the margins this time, he literally turned the letter around and wrote an entire page in-between each sentence! (I'll include the letter in a separate entry so you can see what it looks like.)

This is also one of his most heartfelt ones and he addressed it to "My Dearest Roby".  A different heading from most of them and it seems a turning point to him as you will see how grateful he is to simply be alive and writing this letter.  

Now--Philip's "Thanksgiving" of December 4th, 1863:

"Camp 121st Regt in NY Vols  December 4th 1863
Near Brandy Station  Va

My Dearest Roby 

Once more I am permitted by Gods mercy to write you ~ We have just returned to our old Camp near [illegible] Ford [or field?] again ~ we have had one of the hardest campaigns although short of the war ~ We have been out only 8 days but the troops have suffered more hardships in that time than we did during the whole of Last Summer ~ I have had no opportunity to write you before and we expect a 9 days mail today.  We are very anxious to receive it too as we all expect letters from those we Love ~"

And with that simple statement of "Love", you will see why as he describes what he's just been through:

"Now I will give you a short account of our doing in the Wilderness below the Rapidan it may interest you ~ We started early Thanksgiving morning to give the Enemy one more trial ~ We then heard of Gen Grants successes in Tennessee[.] That cheered us on of course ~ after we got to Brandy Station our Brigade was detailed as wagon guards which we was very glad of as we knew we would not have to be the first to cross the Rapidan ~ We had not gone but a little ways before the teams was stuck in the mud & we had to help them out and so it was untill 12 oclock that night before we got where we could by dawn[,]  we were then 3 miles from the Rapidan & some of the Troops were across ~ Early the next morning we were routed out to start ~ had only a half an hour to get Coffee & Breakfast in to build fires & get water but we had to put up with it[.]  We went down to the River & crossed on Pontoons at Browns [?]  Ford I believe It is usually called Jacobs Bridge ~ We lay on the south Bank all morning but at 12 oclock we could hear the fighting in Front where the 3rd Corps was engaged ~ The Rebs attacked them & we was then ordered to support them in double quicked it up and got in position ~ We were right in the-centre Little Wilderness & it was one of the wildest places I ever saw[,] soon nothing but Hills Stumps & woods filled with underbrush[.]  It was hard work to get our batteries up & it was hard Telling which would carry the day but as night began to draw on and our reinforcements to come up the fighting became less hard[.]  We all expected to get into it but the  it got dark so quick it saved us and we was not sorry either[.] It was a pretty hard fight and but we held our position and the Rebs evacuated the early part of the night~"

I'll stop there for today.  Please come back tomorrow for more of his letter and description of the battle(s) of Thanksgiving week.

Hope to see you then!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Surprise of February 19, 1863

I want to finish up this last letter written in the month of February and then move next week to the Thanksgiving of 1863 and Philip's letter from that time period.  (He was in battle during the Thanksgiving holiday).  

This current letter details a surprise for Roby:

"Feb 19th

I thought when I commenced this Letter I was agoing to scribble off a few hasty lines & then put particulars in Aby s Letter but I had business to see to &c and I might as well finish this now by filling this sheet ~ The nature of the business I refer to may take you by surprise & I had calculated to keep it to myself untill I knew the results but I suppose its my duty here as well as at home to confide to you ~
in short I have been examined for a Lieutenancy by our Major ~ a Chance was given to anyone in the regiment to hand in their names for examination I thought I would try my luck I dont know as it will do me any good or hurt as there are over 50 of them & I dont see how over 8 or 10 can get the commissions as there are not vacancies enough [,] still I think I stand as good chance as any of them as I only missed one or 2 questions but in my next year will probably know whether I am to wear shoulder straps or not..."

What a great surprise!  I won't let on the answer to that either...and now the weather report:

"We are having rough & bad weather this week day before yesterday the snow fell 6 or 7 inches[,]  yesterday it rained hard all day & it is raining yet[,] the mud must be about 2 ft deep again[.]  It is not cold[,]  the snow is about all gone[.]" 

And Philip, always a strong Northern Baptist complains a bit: 

"I enclose some extracts of a Southern Baptist Journal that I got when On picket of a Secesh family[,]  while they appear very devoted to the cause of Christ[,]  yet see the bitter hate that they regard the Northern Baptists with.  Their doctrine is on one of them & it may interest father some[.]  I shall send home money as soon as I can get a chance[.]  I dare not risk it by mail just yet[.]  I also send you a Valentine by this mail..."  Awwww.  

The letter finishes with:

" it was given to me this morning[,] I got a paper this morning with a lot of writing paper & Envelopes enclosed in it[.] who sent it[?]
I think it was Orville Burnhams writing on [it.] Write soon Love to all Yours PR Woodcock"

Like many of his others, there is a postscript written in down the side of one of the pages:

"Tell Aby that his letter will be off in a day or two[.]  You may expect my Likeness every day"

There you have it~ a February day in 1863 during the Civil War.

Please join me next week for a jump to Thanksgiving of 1863!

Hope to see you then!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What's in a "Likeness"?

My great-great grandfather's last letter written in February of 1863 was four pages long and detailed how he was going to have his "likeness" taken in his uniform.  I'm assuming that is the picture you see positioned on the front page of my Blog.  (I've purposely left in spelling errors that were in this letter.)

Here is that letter:

"Camp near White Oak Church
Feb 16th 1863

My Dear Wife

     I received yours of the 8th the other morning + was glad to hear that you was well &c I have a letter most finished that I have been writing to Aby but it is a sort of a history & discription (sic) of things around here that I thought would interest him but it takes several days to write it & I thought I would send this off first ~ but his will be forthcoming in a day or two & the length of it will more than make up for the delay[.]

I am agoing to have my likeness taken day after tomorrow & will send it home immediatly (sic) & then you can see your soldier husband with his rusty old uniform on but I feel more as if there was more honor in that than if I was clean & shining for it shows active service & that I never have fell out & always been with My Company through thick & thin..."

I wondered about that statement and the meaning behind it, then I kept reading and realized how important it was to Philip to not desert:

 "Well we have at last been paid off.  Our Boys here got so mutinous & dissatisfied that I mistrust our staff[.]  officers  used their influence to get us paid off ~ it has efficiently stopped the grumbling[.]  I think this whole Regiment feels better[,] Why the thing had got so bad that the Lieutenant Colonel prepared an article & read to us all to show that tho U.S. could hold us ~ Still there seems to be some difficulty about the muster though it does not amount to much[.]  I think if they pay us promptly but a good many of our deserters have been released who took oath that they had never been mustered into the US service although they had been courtmartialled (sic) & sentence passed most of our deserters have been picked up & brought back though they had got beyond Baltimore[.]  So far nothing has been done with them & probably never will though they were not paid[.]  Bob Crisman & Isaac Whipple were brought in ~ "

Desertion was a common thing among both sides of the war.  To read about it further, please click on the link: Desertion 

The paragraph ends with hope from home:

"I have not got your box yet ~ the teams have not been after them but I think in 2 or 3 days I shall get it I hope so for I want it bad..."

The section written on the 16th finishes there and he continues it on the 19th which will be in my next post.

Just remember that proud face in his "rusty" uniform...

Philip R. Woodcock

Hope to see you for my next entry!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Not Quite Veterans Day Yet

"...O if we did not have a splendid fight ~"

Veterans Day was yesterday and I thought I'd look back at November of 1863 to see where Philip was at that time period.  Although Veterans Day was not officially established in the U.S. until about 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson, these early soldiers were the forerunners of it all.  My husband mentioned yesterday that you're only a Vet when you are finished with your service, so seeing Philip was finished at the end of the Civil War, I honor him here today!

On November 9, 1863, he wrote a hasty letter to Roby after a successful charge on the enemy.  I will wait until I get to that date chronologically to include the entire letter, but I thought I'd give a small excerpt today:

"Camp 121st Nov 9 ~ 63
near Brandy Station VA

My Dearest Roby

Through the mercy of God I am permitted to write you once more to assure you of my Safety ~ On the morning of the 7th we broke camp and marched to near Rappahannock Station & there found the Rebs fortified strongly [,] after some maneuvering around some we undertook to start them out but they were in a good position & we waited untill after dark when they could not use their Batteries on us [.]  We charged on their forts & Rifle Pits & succeeded in driving them in to the River [.] O if we did not have a splendid fight ~ It was one of the most Gallant achievements of the whole was [it.]  We made 3 successive charges and some of us did  did not fire a Shot ~ I tell you our name is up now ~...."

He seemed quite excited and proud of his regiment and how they did!

Thanks G-G Grandfather Philip for your service and to all the countless others who served and continue to do so around the world.

My next post will be back to February of 1863 ~ 
a possible promotion, a picture, desertion and a....Valentine?

Hope to see you then!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Tender Sacrifice

Philip's letter to Roby on this date was short (by his standards), messy, hard to read and contained a surprise ending:

"Feb 15 1863

I now will try and finish this Letter I wish it  ought to have done it before but I was very busy doing Company writing & yesterday Sergt Armstrong and I went over to the 152nd Regt[.]  

I could not do it then ~ It is snowing now pretty hard I dont believe it will amount to much though.  I have just been getting up some wood[.]  I am studying Fredicks  Caseys Infantry Tactics [,] now our Lessons are pretty long & I have all I want to do to get them & do my other work ~ I had a good time over to the 152nd yesterday but I believe Hank Harris is the only good Soldier there [.]  Sergt Ayres is very homesick & praying hard for a discharge ~ I guess he will get it ~ Parsons is on Picket ~ There came a letter for him last night & I opened it [,] it was from Sarah Burnham ~ She wrote that at the Leackers Association of  Springfield Centre ~ Sarah Woodcock passed the best Examination ~ If I go to Washington next week I shall pass a good Examination & be a Captain in the Regular Service and shall Rank higher than our Col Commanding the Regt[.] Sarah Burnham wants my Photograph also Parsons ~ she wrote Parsons that she was agoing to write to me ~ I feel highly honored by that[.]"  

Then his ink looks to have smeared on a word, or several actually.  But as best as I can make it out it read:

"(Illegible) I sense (or seem?) dont say anything about this I only saw it the Letter ~"

Anyway....let's move on!

"Now you must write me soon[.]  There is not a word said about furloughs yet perhaps if I should get a Commission I should be home 35 days[.] I know I could get near at the End of the war[.] say yes[.] give my Love to all tell Rosetta I should like to see her ~ Kiss for you & Baby[.]  Love me as ever.

Yours with much Love
Phil R Woodcock

Excuse hasty writing"

As I've mentioned before, sometimes the age of the paper, the condition of the ink and his handwriting make for difficult reading.  But onto the additional surprise I found when deciphering this letter.  There was a postscript that was written up-side-down on both pages.  When I first read part of it "maybe George would like a black brother..." I immediately got affronted in my 2014 mindset.  I thought, wow, how racist--but then I read the entire paragraph that started one page back, also up-side-down and then my heart cried...

"There is a splendid little black baby out on the Picket Line that its mother wants to give away[.]  If there is any one who wants one now is a good chance ~ Maybe George would like a black brother ~ if so I will bring it home ~ it has shiny face & white eyes short hair thick lips &c &c &c"

Mom, at the picket line, giving away her baby...with the hope of a family up North to adopt him...I assume praying for freedom and safety for her child. What an ultimate sacrifice!

Next post is the last letter from February 1863!

Hope to see you then!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Back to 1863

"I see he takes after his father..."

The month of October deemed to be a difficult one for me to find time to write, but I'm back and hopefully will carve time out of my days for a return to my original project...bringing Philip to life for all of you readers.  Thanks for hanging in there with me.

I'm headed back to resume the daily letters starting back at February 9, 1863's continuation. (Please see my post from August 29 for the first part of the letter.)  Philip's regiment was encamped for the winter at White Oak Church in Virginia. He had just mentioned that he felt the Rebel army fought better then the Union soldiers and then his letter turned to something more important to him...his son Georgie:

"I am glad that little Georgie is so smart his Aunt Martha brags very highly of him she says he cant be beat around there [,] I see he takes after his father ~ I would like to come home & give him a Military Education but never mind wait till I get those shoulder Straps on this..."  (Meaning a promotion I believe?)

"I will come home unless my chances for a still higher promotion are good then I shall always stay in the Army for without bagging I am considered a good military scholar & a good Soldier[.] I used to think that when I got in battle I would not be very brave but it is right the other way[,] I have never been very badly scared at the bullets ~ yet though when we were across at Fredericksburgh & engaged with the pickets ~ I did not expect to get out of it alive or unhurt & it seems almost a miracle that I did but I went in with a firm resolve to do all I could & that God would take care of me & he did for he brought me out all safe & sound thanks be to his mercy."

I wish I could end right at that strong statement of his personal faith, but he continues the letter on,  with the same no-nonsense and honest appraisal of his situation:

"Yesterday seemed the most like Sunday that I have have (sic) seen we had not anything to do & it was so pleasant & quiet there was no services & no parades nothing but morning inspection & that was shorter than usual we dont drill any more now ~ it is either stormy or else very muddy that prevents it. Do you hear anything that our Regiment is not mustered into the United States service & that we cant get our pay[?] ~ that is all the talk here & over 2/3 of the Regt believes it I cant think it possible though we were not mustered like the rest of the Regts that came out[,]  a good many of our boys get letters from home that they cant be held if they do desert[,] only for New York States service there may be something in it there seems to be a difficulty somewheres & our officers try to keep it from us but [illegible here] will out[.] If you send another box I want some little tracts & books put in & papers that I can distribute amongst the boys they can get no reading here & they fairly jump to see a newspaper & Sunday school paper ~ I enclose to you a description of a march which is perfect ~ only that it makes it a little more pleasant than it really is but it is a pretty good thing after all. Now write soon & dont forget me. Kiss Georgie & remember yourself also write immediately[.]

Yours P R Woodcock"

P.S. In the middle of the previous page, he added a post script: "I forgot to tell you we are all well[.] There has been a new order in regard to Express boxes so dont send untill I tell you how to direct it. I am getting so fat I can hardly stir...."

Somehow I doubt that, but it made me smile when I turned the page upside-down and read it!

Next post~ from February 15th, a heartbreaking sacrifice...

Hope to see you then!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Time to Catch Up

 I have been away from posting for a couple of weeks.  As modern life would have it, I had been using this blog as a means-to-an-end ie: crafting a manuscript for publication.  Well, about a month ago, I went to that saved manuscript and it had disappeared!  All 200+ pages of it...

I was very dismayed.

So, as I've been taking a long, big sigh, I've also been going over in my head what direction I wish to take with this project.  I have decided to go back in time to where I left off--the Winter of 1863--and continue in order of his letters.  I'll continue to throw in some relevant "150 Years Ago Today" type stuff, but I need to get back to the nuts and bolts of why I started this project in the first place...and that was to get Philip's words to Roby written down and therein, lies his story.

Please continue to join me on his journey...

**(I invite you to catch up on previous posts if you haven't had the time to read them. )

Friday, October 3, 2014

News from the Hospital

"...there are a great many here with Limbs off and others..."

Philip wrote Roby over several days after being moved to Winchester, VA.  He describes his journey here:

"Sheridan U S Gen Hospital

Ward 3 Winchester Va

Sept 27th 1864

My Dear Roby

Thinking you might wish to know how I am prospering I write you this morning[.]  I am getting along finely so that I can get around a Little [.] We were brought here the 24th in Baggage Wagons over a distance of 18 miles ~ it was pretty rough but we got along very well [.]  I dont like to complain but we are not having a very fine time here [.] They have no conveniences nor regulations but I guess they will be better provided for after this [.]  The Sanitary Commission have fixed up an Establishment now [.] We only get a little Coffee & 2 Hard Tack to a meal untill tonight they opened their hearts and gave us a slice of Bread[.]"

His diary has an entry on the 28th:

"Feel very comfortable this morning ~ a little Rainy but soon cleared off [.] Another change of Doctors today ~ got a good one now [.] Had some Loaf Sugar of the Sanitary Commission ~ got some Sheets &c today [.]"  Doesn't sound too bad right?  Think again...

"(Letter continued) Sept 28th

I left this Letter to take a walk last night and I fell in with a couple of Rebels & had a long conversation with them ~ One of them had a splendid Education[.]  They both admitted that they were given up & could hold out but a short time longer ~ Our Army has been pushing ahead & are 60 miles or more from here now [.]   This has been a splendid Victory for us ~ and makes the Peace Democrats shake in the Shoes I hope ~ We have a majority for Lincoln in the Hospital here and Everyday adds men to it [.] The Army & we think the North will give him the majority [.] I do not know whether any of us will be sent from here or not [.] I hope so [.] They must either send me from here north or to my Regt [.] It is awfull dull and I would rather be with the Regiment [.] I would like to go to Baltimore so I could get a furlough but we cannot get them here ~ they will probably keep us hanging around untill we get fit for duty before they take any steps for that [.]"

Still not sounding too bad?  He sounds proud and a little bored, right?  Now the true description of his "hospital":

"Our Cooks and nurses are nothing but a lot of Pimps & Stragglers that was scraped up after we Left Winchester & put on Duty here [.] They dont understand their business and put on a good many airs & the Cooking is miserable not half as good as we can do ourselves [.] It is a nice healthy place here for a Hospital and I think they will keep it up [.] That is the reason we dont get sent off [.] The weather has been cold but it is getting warmer now again [.] We are waiting for our breakfast which will be Hard Tack & Coffee [.] I walked down to the Brook & took a wash this morning [.] It hurts me to lie down so I get up pretty Early mornings[.] We lie on the ground yet but we will get some mattresses today ~" On the ground?  And this is a "good" hospital... "I dream of home most every night & that answers as a furlough.  I have not heard from you since the Accident at Springfield Center [.] I suppose Phil Van Horne has got my Letters ~ There are a great many here with Limbs off and others wounded in every possible place [.] There has been but few deaths I guess [.] You must take good care of yourself & Georgie [.] Most every night I have both of you with me [.] My Looking Glass that Billy Parmer gave me almost 2 years ago was Slivered into a thousand pieces by that piece of Shell ~ it fractured 2 Ribs & hurt my Lung a little [.] (his lung actually was collapsed) My Album was not hurt any [.] I will try and find out where you can direct to me before I send this out [.] 

Love to all [.] A Kiss for yourself and Baby [.] Remember me [.]

From your devoted husband
Phil R Woodcock
This letter had an addendum:

"I cannot find out for certain how Letters should be mailed but if I am here this will reach me ~ write as soon as you get this [.] I am anxious to hear from you it has been so long [.] Love me as ever [.] It rains now a little[.]

Yours with Love 
P.R. Woodcock

Direct to 
Orderly Sergt P R Woodcock
Ward No "3"
Sheridan Genl Hospital 
Winchester Va"

Lying wounded, on the ground, in the rain, barely fed or supervised.  Cared for by "pimps and stragglers", not nursing staff.  Limbs cut's a wonder anyone made it home from this particular war!  

Please join me again for more letters from Philip and his story!



Friday, September 26, 2014


"...the ambulance carried me to Division Hospital ~ 
it was rough & dark ~
 suffered a good deal..."

My great-great grandfather was wounded on the 22nd of September, 1864 after two years in the war.  He survived, but was in the hospital for about 4 months. He wrote to Roby prior to his injury saying he was:

"...alive, safe, well and feeling good thank God & have the opportunity to write you again ~"

(I will detail this letter at a later date). On the 23rd, he wrote again, this time not so well and from the 1st Division 6th Corps Hospital near Strasburg, VA.
Here is that letter:

"1st Div 6th Corps Hospital
Near Strasburg
Sept 23 1864

My Dear Wife

I write this to quiet any apprehensions you may have in regard to my safety ~ We had another severe battle last night [.] I was wounded about 6 oclock with a piece of Shell in the right Breast or on the corner where the Ribs join about 1/2 an Inch from the Pit of my Stomach [.] It was a very severe contusion & has hurt me internally some & I think 2 Ribs fractured but I shall be all right in a few days again [.] I had a heavy plug of Tobbacco my Album & Diary in my pockets & they saved me a very serious wound if not my Life [.]  You better believe it knocked me some ~ I never was so doubled up in my Life ~ I felt at first as if a 20 pounder had gone through me ~ The piece of Shell was about 2 inches square & would weigh 1/2 a pound.  I have it now ~ it smashed a button & tore my coat & then stuck there ~ I was very lucky in being got off [.] There was a stretcher close by & they carried me off right away to an Ambulance [.] I then had a hard time of it [.] The road was rough & it was so dark and the Hospital was about 4 miles it almost Killed me was bruised so [.]  To day I am pretty sore but I can help myself a little [.] I just took a short walk [.] "

Pretty strong to be walking around the very next day with broken ribs, a punctured lung (which he didn't know until later, I've been told by family members about it) and numerous bruises.

"We are to be sent to Winchester as soon as the wagons get back which have gone out to the front to issue Rations [.] I dread that long Ride ~ it is 18 miles & we have to ride in the Government wagons as our Ambulances have gone on with the Army but the Road is good & may be we shall get along very well [.] If I get sent to Washington I shall get home but they have established a large Hospital at Winchester and I may not go any further than there ~ I shall write you again as soon as we get regulated [.]  Phil Van Horne & the other boys were very kind to me [.] Phil stuck to me till he saw me in the Ambulance ~ Our Forces were again victorious & drove the Enemy out of their best position [.] Gen Sheridan ought to have his pocket full of Stars [.] He is doing bully in this valley [.] Our Army I hear is still in pursuit [.] It was an awfull fight however but our Loss was very slight [.] We took 16 pieces Artillery & host of prisoners [.] We had started them before I was hit ~ We were in a dense woods and it was a rough position but the Rebs did not stand as well as I thought they would [.]  We have not much to Eat here ~ the Hospital moved on this morning & only left 2 men & Tents till the wagons got back but we will get good care in Winchester I guess ~ I saw a mans leg taken off a few moments ago [.] I am glad it was not mine [.] I think I wrote you a long letter for a wounded man but I feel pretty easy ~ I cannot lie down only on my back & then it hurts me agood deal [.] Dont worry any for me [.] I shall get all right in a few days [.] Trust in God[.] I did not think I would get hit so soon after writing you yesterday thus showing how little we know what awaits [.] Let us feel thankful that it is not worse ~ Do not write till I know where I shall be [.] Love me as ever ~ a Kiss for Baby [.] Love to all [.]

Yours with Love

Phil R Woodcock"

Tough, tough man.  Watches a leg being taken off, prepares for a long, rough ride to the larger hospital and tells his wife that "I shall get all right in a few days..."  I'm am always amazed at this strength from humans.

Please join me for my next post!

Monday, September 22, 2014

150 Years Ago Today...

"very tired..."

When I last wrote, Philip was finishing up his letter of August 25/26th, 1864.  He continued it with a brief paragraph written on the 26th: 

"I have not much time after all to write this morning as I have to Drill the men 1/2 an hour this morning ~ I expected a move before this as things looked like it[.] That Firing yesterday was at Antietam Creek & Shepardstown but maybe we have force enough up there now[.] I heard we were under orders[.] I wish you had sent that Shirt when it was finished[.] We have had regular mail ever since & if we move we may not get it in a week but I guess it will come all safe but I must close ~ write soon[.] Love me as ever Kiss our baby & one for you also[.] The Boys send Love[.] I dreamed I was home & had such a good time Last night[.] Yours with Love Yours &c Phil R Woodcock"

He wrote again on August 30th from Charlestown, VA (now West Virginia) and then on Sept. 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 16, 18 from Berryville, VA. On the 19th of September, 1864, the 121st was involved in the Battle of Third Winchester Philip wrote in his diary on the 19th that:

 "Our Brigade stood their ground and Saved the Army ~ at 2 oclock a Charge was made on the Right which Flanked them ~ we charged the Center 3 times driving them far beyond Winchester taking Prisoners Colors &c. The most glorious thing of this Campaign ~ great victory [.] Gen Russel Killed ~ Gen Upton wounded ~ our Loss in Regt slight ~ only 1 Killed & 18 wounded ~ very tired [.]"

As the 121st moved into position over the next three days, he continued to document the movements and his emotions:

The 20th: "Arose 4 oclock[.] Badly used up ~ got breakfast ~ marched at Day Light up the valley hard & fast marching ~ crossed Cedar Creek 2 oclock & halted in our old woods very tired awaiting orders but we laid quiet the rest of the day [.] The Johnnys in force & making a Stand in the Gap ~ After Supper I went down to Strasburg after water [.]

The 21st: " Arose 4 oclock & got breakfast [.] Some Skirmishing in front ~ was ordered to be ready to move ~ Had to swallow our breakfast whole but then laid around all forenoon ~ at 1 oclock moved out to the front 2 miles & formed our lines ~ run a Battery on the Skirmish Line [.] The Rebs have a very strong position ~ Nothing but Skirmishing done ~ Laid down for the night under Arms but at one oclock moved a mile or so up to the Right & formed & threw up works [.]"

And exactly 150 years ago today the unthinkable happened ~ he was wounded:

The 22nd: "Eat our breakfast by daylight ~ the first meal in some days [.] Capt Cronkite went on Div Staff ~ at 4 oclock advanced our Lines & soon after our Right became hotly Engaged then we pushed ahead & became Engaged ~ got Shelled severely [.] I was wounded by a fragment of a Shell in the wood ~ it struck me in Breast near the pit of the Stomach ~ severe pain ~ was carried off on stretcher ~ The boys stayed with me ~ the ambulance carried me to Division Hospital ~ it was very rough & dark ~ suffered a good deal [.] The Rebs drove all to pieces ~ great victory [.]"

I couldn't let this date get past me without the mention of his injury!  He did survive it and I will continue to post his letters from both after and previous to the injury.  He was in hospital for over 4 months and continued to heal and write to Roby and then went back into service for the Army until the Surrender at Appomattox.

Please continue to join me on Philip's journey!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Bolivar Heights

"I dreamed I was home & had such a good time Last night..."

(I'm sorry readers, I've been away from my posts for a bit.  I will generally be posting about once a week for the next few months.)

My great-great grandfather's letter of the 25th was one of practicality and home issues.  He noted in his diary on the 24th that "A Reconnaissance made found the Enemy in force. A heavy Skirmish. Drew Rations. Everything quiet again ~ got a Letter from Roby..."  

On the 25th, after writing again in his diary that there was heavy firing at Antietam Creek, there were "smart showers" and after having corn for Supper he settled down to write Roby:

(Letterhead has Eagle emblem with "E Pluribus Unum", 1st Sergt. P.R. Woodcock, Co E, 121st Regt, N.Y.S. Vols.)

"Bolivar Heights
Aug 25 1864

My Dear Wife

I received your most welcome Letter yesterday & now hasten to answer it while I have opportunity [.] I was glad to know that my Shirt was on the way as I have worn this one 4 weeks although I have washed it up often enough ~ We have had a Bridgade Inspection today also a good Shower ~ We lie in Camp yet near Harpers Ferry [.] The Johnnys are still in our front but I guess they do not want to get whipped bad enough to try us on here ~ our position is too good ~ " Good is GOOD! "I shall soon perhaps tonight be very busy as I have 4 months Clothing accounts to write for 2 companies also our Pay & Muster Rolls have been sent us to Complete ~ we shall be mustered the 31st for 2 months Pay ~ I am not in Debt any yet nor I dont believe I shall this month & I send you a little more money I hope ~ I did not have to buy so much Tobbacco ~ I shall draw $44.00 - $20.00 for July & $24.00 for August..."

If you wish to research the pay scale of each side further, here is a great link: Military Pay 

He continued with: "I have to Dress up a little better than I did but I shall be as economical as I can. I want you to buy you a Cloak if you think best. Do not take your Hop money. I will send you enough [.] I hope we will get paid as soon as the Pay Rolls return ~ I did not send George any money. I saw by the Papers that the Paymasters were agoing to pay off Grants Troops & then there was a long time we did not see a paper nor hear from the Army [.] I supposed untill I got this Letter that he was paid ~ He complains a good deal of his grub but he is better off where he is as the 76th has been in action[.] "

News of the Rebels is next: "I saw in yesterdays Paper they had captured a Rebel Flag on the Welden R Road[.] They are at Reams Station where we destroyed the Road when we were there [.]"

His letter of this date is long and was somewhat rambling:

" is very poor..."
"...hard tack are old & got Bugs & worms..."
"...dry me a lot of Corn this fall to send me..."
"...I think our companies will be separated before long..."
"...Skirmishing was severe but the Johnnys was there & our boys had to come back..."

And upfront news about what's going on there:

"Today there has been heavy Cannonading in the direction of Williamsport for a Short time [.] I should not be surprised if it was the Rebs trying to cross the Potomac into Maryland [.] The weather is some cooler than it has been & the nights are more comfortable ~ Every thing belonging to our Corps that was left to City Point has been sent up except our Batteries & I guess they will soon be here so it is clear that we will not go back but are assigned to the Middle Department [.] There is considerable Skirmishing in front this afternoon ~ perhaps the Rebs will try to scare us a little..."

After a little more rambling on about various family and friends..."Millie Kasler wanted to know....sent her Love to you....Myron home on furlough...Darb Ely has been promoted to Sergeant...Henry Cadwell cut his hand pretty bad...with a Hatchet....but nothing serious...."

He then takes a break until August 26th to continue the letter which I will include in my next post.

Please stick with me readers -- 
Upcoming September battles 
and Philip is wounded!

Hope to see you then!