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

Friday, May 30, 2014

September 9, 1862 ~ Army of Potomac

Before I post his next letter, I thought I'd start the day with a bit of explanation about his letters and my involvement in typing/sharing them.  You'll notice that sometimes punctuation is in brackets [].  This is because he really did not use punctuation and for easier reading, I have added some where it seems appropriate.  There are differences in the spelling of some words ie. "agoing or untill" which I've kept due to the historical accuracy factor.  He also tended to separate his sentences with a small squiggly mark which I've decided to type as a ~. I've tried to type all of his words in italics so you can determine the difference between my comments and his writings.  You'll also notice some usage of words or terms that today that people might find offensive.  Again, due to my desire to keep this strictly historically accurate, I'm typing his letters word-for-word. Obviously, certain things change throughout history and looking back on it with accuracy helps us to understand how far we've come.  And now, the letter of September 9, 1862:

This particular letter was written on blank diary pages dated January - February 1862.  He heads it with Army of Potomac Sept 9th [1862]

"My Dear Wife

You may think this is a funny way to send letters but it is the best I can do [.]  Last Sunday about 11 o'clock we received marching orders & leave Knapsack &c carry nothing but Blanket Haversack Canteen & two days Rations also Guns & 60 rounds of cartridges which betokened something besides a simple march ~ it looked like fighting but as yet we have not had any ~ but we had just passed a march that I did not think of when I enlisted ~ we have marched night & day ~ strong men have fallen down in the ranks [,] men who was stouter than I be ~ I have stood it untill to day [.] I was pretty sick of fever [.] I caught cold sleeping out in the open Air &c [.] The 1st Lieut ordered us in the rear to day but we are drawn up in line of Battle to day & we are resting a little & I begin to feel better ~ at noon to day we were resting about a 1/4 of a mile from here [.] I caved in but we were called out to fight [.] I stuck to it but no Enemy came after all.  There are over 100,000 troops near us ~ they stretch for miles ahead & behind us ~ the rebels are about a mile & one half from here retreating from us.  I just heard but I do not want you to be frightened & think we are agoing right into battle we may be fighting in 2 hours but I think not [.] I was admitted into the confidence of the commissioned officers yesterday & they say we will not unless in a great emergency although they talk to the Privates as if we was agoing right into action ~ we are now north of the point of Rocks where the Rebels crossed the Potomac but I shall have to leave this untill tomorrow to finish [.]"

His letter will be continued in tomorrow's post.  It's dated September 10th.  

A quick additional thing I wanted to add today.  I received a simple, but heartfelt message from my Uncle today.  He's a direct descendant of P.R. Woodcock.  It's his great-grandfather.  I thought I'd share it with you all: 

I'm glad that you are posting this truly priceless collection that my mother gave to your brother. I remember how very difficult it was to read them when I saw them many years ago. I hope at sometime you will include when your mother and grandmother returned the seal to Spotsylvania,Va that is part of this story.
Continue your good work.
Uncle Ted

Don't worry Uncle Ted, I will most definitely include the story of the Seal of Spotsylvania!

Come back tomorrow for September 10, 1862!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Fort Lincoln Continued...

At the point I left off yesterday, Philip was ready to lead a charge on the enemy.  His letter continued:

"other Sergeants done the same & the whole Regt has about all offered to go but we want fair play & there won't be but 25 allowed out of a company but I am afraid that we won't get the chance ~ we do not know how long we shall stay here ~ we expected to go right south but they Stationed us here & wanted us to go to Harpers Ferry where I hope they will station us though I like it here first Rate. 5 of us tents together viz (sic) the 2nd & 5th Sergeant & the 3rd Corporal & O.L Parsons ~ we shall do our own cooking after this"

That statement was a telling one because he goes on to share how inadequate their food supply was:

"We hae (sic) had nothing to eat execpt at Albany N.Y. [.] Philadelphia [.] Baltimore & Washington ~ 6 meals since last Saturday 11 o'clock [.]"

This was a little under two weeks time.  Only six meals given during that time period.

"We bought some things on the way until we arrived at Baltimore ~ after that it was not Safe to buy anything to put in our mouths ~ my duties all the whole march were to see that no unripe fruits Pies & everything that was unhealthy was not sold along the line of our company & a hard job I had too ~ it was hard to keep our boys[s] from Eating anything they were so hungry [.] Yesterday they had a fight at Chain bridge 19 miles from here ~ we distinctly heard the firing ~ I tell you it was something new to us ~ this morning we have heard firing south of us but I guess it must be the Practicing from the Forts for Washington is completely surrounded by Forts. We are in sight of Fort Massachusetts where George was"  (His brother George A. Woodcock) "it is about a mile & one half from here ~ I saw it this morning. I tell you the country looks hard here ~ it is nothing but bad & Yellow Soil & niggers (sic) ~ I don't blame Geo for not liking them ("them" being the Confederate army) ~ I have not seen much of Slavery & I do not want to ~ I have seen the Results & that is enough."

Philip continued his letter of September 4th 1862 with his first-hand account of slavery and the treatment of the men captured by the Rebs.  During this time period, Washington, DC is in turmoil.  The Confederate Army has positioned itself in Frederick, MD.  General Lee has made his move towards Maryland in the days preceding.  Philip goes on to tell Roby about his encounter previously in Baltimore on the march down to Washington D.C.:

"In Baltimore I saw 9 Slaves arrested who had run away & they supposed they had almost got away safe ~ it was tough I tell you to see them marched off so ~ one of them [,] a man of some considerable intelligence as soon as he saw the Soldiers & there were three Regts of us [,] he cried like a baby & cried out ' save us, Save us'. ~ it was hard for 3000 men to stand there & see those slaves marched by the whole of us by those who follow the business of Slave auctioning ~ there was not 25 men but what would have cleaned the whole City if the word had been given us" ~ 

Willing to fight, unable to due to orders.  He finishes his first letter with:

"We expect the President & Gen McClellan to visit us in a few days ~ We have just received orders that tomorrow morning every man must have his Gun loaded & inspected ready for action in Expectation of attack ~ if this order is not done just to get the men used to such things ~ it is pretty evident that we shall soon see service ~ we are ready though we have never drilled a minute with musket ~ but I don't think it will amount to any thing though they are expecting a heavy attack on the City but there are so many thousands of Troops around it & a rebel could not live long here ~ but I must close ~ I want you to write to me by return of mail for I am anxious to hear from you & baby & I want to hear where Geo {is} now I am agoing to write to him but I don't know where he is but I hope he is safe ~ now write immediately & all the news.  If I had more room I would write more but I shall write again soon [.]

                                                    Direct to P.R. Woodcock
                                                    Co. E 121st Regt NYSV
                                                    Washington D C
                                                    Care Capt Campbell

Love me as ever ~ good bye"

Come back tomorrow for Army of Potomac, Sept 9, 1862.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Fort Lincoln

His first letter to Roby was written from Fort Lincoln, September 4, 1862.  He wrote the letter on stationary etched with a print of battle with the following caption: 
Desperate Bayonet Charge at Battle of Winchester, March 23, led by Gen Tyler

"My Dearest Wife

After a long time I sit down to write to you and let you [know] our whereabouts ~ We left Camp Schuyler last Saturday noon & went to Albany & we had Supper provided for us ~ Father & Mother Pierce & Fannie & Janice & Eddie came down to see me, I telegraphed to them from Herkimer [.] They brought me a nice large Cake afterwards which came good.
About 9 o'clock we took the boat for New York.  We ran aground 2 or three times going down.  We reached NY 9 o'clock the next morning & encamped at City Park barracks.  The living was very poor..."

Philip went on to tell about seeing some of the city: (Waters Fitch & Bryston & Hoagland & c.) arriving in Philadelphia at "6 o'clock P.M." and losing his cap and buying a new one on the the way.  They traveled on very dark & dangerous roads, going slowly ~ "I stood Sergeant of the Guard all night & I liked to froze on the outside of the Cars. We got to Baltimore about 11 am.  We got fed there about 4 o'clock pm.  We started then for Washington at 10pm & felt our way all night about 4 miles an hour."  

 "We found obstructions on the track &c ~ We got a miserable breakfast in Washington ~ we marched through the streets & about the Capitol & then started where we are stationed now at Fort Lincoln ~ there is part of another Reft stationed here besides a company of Artillery who are practicing with Cannon [.] Our Fort mounts 13 Columbiads [.] 1 Large 8 in Mortar & one Rifled Cannon all loaded for action for they have expected an attack here ~ our Guns have not all been distributed & Last night about 2 0'clock 2 Companies were called out and arms given them ~ it looked pretty scary ~ we expected an attack all night ~ our pickets shot into a band of 20 Guerillas but I believe no one was killed ~ there is a rebel next about 4 miles from here which as kept up the Flag lately but I believe it is down now ~ the Companies that were here before us wanted to go and sack the town but were not strong enough force. I offered to go with them & take 25 men out of our Company ~ there was 75 volunteered to go with me"

Come back again tomorrow for more of his letter!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Back to the Beginning

Philip R. Woodcock was born in Canajoharie, NY on January 16, 1840.  He was raised in Springfield, NY, Otsego County and at the age of 20, married Roby Jane Pierce in 1860.  She was originally from Warren, NY in Herkimer county.  They had their first son two years later on February 1, 1862 and named him George Ellisworth Woodcock after Philip's brother.  Sometime later that year, Philip joined his brother George in fighting for the Union troops.  He enlisted as a Private on July 23, 1862 in Springfield, NY with the 121st New York State Infantry division.  One month later in August, he was promoted to Corporal at Camp Schuylor, Mohawk, NY and much later, on February 22, 1865 was promoted and commissioned 1st Lieutenant.  During his tenure with the 121st, he participated in 17 major battles and 14 minor engagements and skirmishes.  He was wounded in September of 1864 in Fisher's Hill, VA.  On June 25, 1865, he received an honorable discharge by the general order of the War Department.  At that point, the surrender at Appomattox, which he was present for, was nearly two months behind him.  It was finally time to return to his beloved Roby and little George.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The 26th of May, 1864 "Memorial Day"

I couldn't let today get started without looking in Philip's diary about what took place on May 26, 1864.  One hundred fifty years ago, the 26th fell on a Thursday.  He was near Chesterfield, VA that day.  His diary entry read:

"Did not get up very early [.] Had our chicken for Breakfast was good [.] Rained very hard this morning. Our Division started this morning for the Peninsula [-] marched about 7 miles to Chesterfield & stayed till night [.] Sheridans whole Cavalry Corps passed us [-] at 8 o'clock  we started - the road was clear & we kept steady going all night only rested 3 times [.] The road was good & we traveled fast a South East course a very level country - made 22 1/2 miles [.]"

He also wrote a long letter to Roby that day which I'll type in it's entirety later but a paragraph for this morning--

"We have been on this Campaign now 22 days - it seems 2 months - we have seen the hardest fighting the world ever knew. The men have fought on both sides harder than ever - stand up to it for hours untill the Dead & Dying were piled up that we could not avoid stepping on them - near Laurel Hill where we fought 4 hours the Rebs were at least 5 ft thick.  I never saw such sights as in this Campaign - Gen Lee's Army I think now is on the South Anna River - the only place they can stand this side of Richmond.  We are now only 28 miles from there. I hope we shall soon see the Inside - we are getting pretty tired and need rest. I dont know when you will get this. I will send it as soon as possible so good bye again. May God bless you my dear wife. A kiss for Baby & you. Love me still.

                                                    Yours as Ever
                                                    Sergt P R Woodcock"

Bodies, 5 feet thick.  Yes, we need to remember Memorial Day, every day we breathe freedom.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Prologue, part II

During Philips long three year service in the 121st Regiment NY, he wrote numerous letters to his wife, brother and other family members.  He also kept daily diaries of his activities, rations, muster rolls, location, health and other daily minutia.  As I mentioned before, there are over 600 letters in this collection from P.R. Woodcock, written lovingly and with great concern for his young wife and infant son.

"Well good bye & take care of yourself & baby -- give my love to all & send a kiss [.] Yours with much Love P.R. Woodcock."

He wrote Roby almost daily and gave witness to the events surrounding him and the feelings of not only himself, but his entire company.  His sense of humor occasionally would show through as he would recount the stories of drunken commanders and his compassion for the cause showed through as he and his company stood helpless early on in the war watching re-captured slaves being sent to the auction houses.  His very first letter to Roby on September 4, 1862 told of the difficulty  

"to see them marched off so -- one of them," "cried out, Save us! Save us!"

Saturday, May 24, 2014


"O you that stay north do not know the miseries and horrors of war..."

On September 17th, 1862, Philip R. Woodcock put his paper against his knee, his cartridge box not being close enough, and wrote to his beloved wife Roby that day.  He wrote of the horror of the Civil War playing out before him.  He wrote during some of the most intense battles and gave dramatic, first-hand accounts of the war waging around him.  As enemy fire from the Rebels landed near him during the intense battle of Antietam from September 16-18th in 1862 he wrote: 

 "...a short time ago a ball struck the ground about 20 Rods from me & one about 30 or 40.  I tell you they tear up things some(.)" 

He later went on to describe the aftermath of the battle written from Berkittsville, MD on September 17th: 

"O what sights I see there -- I counted 96 dead rebels and a few Federals but I did see them all not near -- our men were buried immediately but we had the pleasure of sleeping side of dead Confederates 2 nights & being in the Company 3 days -- the most of the boys stripped the bodies of Badges Buttons & Stripes of the uniform to send home but I suppose you do not want any very bad so I did not do so myself -- but to see bodies lying in every possible shape dead and staring at you, some shot in the head, some in the limbs & bodies but all of them [but all of them]"  repeated twice in the letter for emphasis, "looking horrible was a sight that at first made me sick of war."  "It was a terrible battle--"

Friday, May 23, 2014

The letters of Lieutenant Philip R. Woodcock, 121st Regiment, NYS Infantry, September 4, 1862-November 9, 1865

Many years ago, my great-great grandfather, Philip R. Woodcock, stuffed his many letters and diaries into an old shoebox which he gave to his granddaughter, Roby Amelia Woodcock.  She of course, grew up, married, had children who in turn, had more children.  Sometime before her death in the 1980's, my grandmother gave this somewhat unobtrusive box to my
brother, Donald Jones.  What he found in it was something nothing short of miraculous.  Over 600 letters and diaries were written over a three year span during Philip's time in the Civil War.  I'm told there is no greater collection in our American history.  We have yet to put them into a museum. 

After a long course of deciphering his somewhat difficult handwriting and subsequent crash of a computer file, my brother abandoned the task of typing up his letters and diaries.  The box was passed to my step-mother to type and then eventually to me.  I've been slowly reading over these letters and found that his story needs to be told.  Publishers have ignored my queries (so far), so I have decided to "write" my book online--one day at a time, give or take a few.  Each post will be a new letter, a new diary, a new day.  From the beginning of the war until his weary, but welcome return home to civilian life so many, many long years ago.

Welcome to the letters and diaries of Philip R. Woodcock.  

Glad you found him.