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

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Field of Battle

Fourteen days out from leaving home and marching down to the fighting filled the young soldiers with excitement. The letter of the 14-15th practically brims over with Philip's anxiousness to enter battle but also underscores the truth of what he was really feeling (fear) as he described the day to his wife -- gun in hand, loaded and ready to fire when needed:

"Sunday Sept 14th 1862 Field of Battle

My Dear Wife

Although the Chaplain came in to day & brought the letters for the Regt yet none came for me & I sent out one to you [.] I thought I would write again & let you know where we were ~ we marched a few miles this morning & finally came up with the Enemy about 8 miles from Harpers Ferry & at Bryattsville I believe the name of the Town is[.] [T]hey are in force in the mountains & we have got them surrounded ~ we are fighting with them now [.] I say we because we are into it though we have not fired a Gun yet but they are all loaded & ready for action ~ we are kept back a little yet ~ we can get a small chance at the [.] I guess the moment we got here our Artillery sent a 24 pounder amongst them & then they answered it [.] I tell you [fancy] too & the way the Shot flew I tell you was fun [.] We were placed upon a side hill out of danger ~ a short time ago a ball struck the ground about 20 Rods from me (that is about 330 feet/100.6 meters from him) & one about 30 or 40 [.] I tell you they tear up things some [.] Our Regt take it pretty cool for a new one & upon the point of Fighting but when the first ball went over our heads it was fun to see the boys squat down a little though they pretended not to notice it much [.] I bent my head a little but nobody could help it ~ they do make an awful horrid noise especially the shells & there is not much chance of dodging [.]"

I'm not sure about you, but when I read that passage I could feel his excitement as the shells were whizzing past and yet a sense of reality and awareness settling in of the serious nature of the situation. He goes on to complain (a very little bit) about being left behind again:

"The rest of the Troops have gone on & are fighting but we are stuck behind as usual & compelled to see without helping ~ it is not half so exciting as I thought it would be but we are taking it very cool [.] I do not think we shall be called out to  night but the Major just said that we might possibly tomorrow ~ while I have been writing over 10,000 fresh troops have passed us to fight so our Chance looks small to be with unless it is to help finish them [.] The Artillery has stopped firing & I guess they will withdraw for the night ~ the Infantry has about stopped too ~ it has been nothing but skirmishing so far but I must get my supper ~ they will not allow us to make a fire so a cold supper awaits me so good night [.] "

Almost dejectedly, he packs it in for the night but the next day
dawns and what a difference:
"Monday Morning 15th 1862

Glorious News this morning my dear wife [!] our forces has whipped the Enemy though at the Expense of many a poor mans life ~ we marched this morning a couple of miles & have stopped a short time on the mountains ~ our forces last night made a rally on the Rebels & took about 500 prisoners & killed a great many ~ we lost about 20 killed & 200 wounded ~ the dead Rebels lay thick all around us [.] I have been to see some ~ I tell you it looks horrible [.] I am glad you cannot see a battle field as it looks after the battle is over ~ it is horrible. The Rebels Skedaddled & ran over the mountains & we are after them now ~ we expect to overtake them shortly so I thought I would finish this letter first ~ but I must close[.] I wish I knew where George is[.] I would give anything to see him[.] I have heard several times that he was on ahead of us but I doubt it some [.]"

 George was his older brother who enlisted prior to him.

"I wish you could see the Army we have here ~ there are 3 times as many men as there is in Otsego Co [.] I do not know what they are agoing to do with us but I suppose to follow them up - If I go into battle I shall do my duty & hope I shall come out of it all safe - if not I sure I shall die in a good cause - Tell Burnhams folks that Parsons is all right & ready for a fight [.] I wish I could hear from you - I do not know as this letter will reach you but I must close so good bye my dearest wife [.] Love me as much as ever ~ do not be unnecessarily alarmed for I shall take good care of myself & should I not live through the coming battle take good care of the baby but I have no fears [.] I think I shall come out all strait at least I will try to [.] Now good bye ~ give my love to all the friends [.] Write me immediately Direct to

                                                             Sergeant P.R. Woodcock
                                                             Co. E 121 Regt N.Y.S.V.
                                                             Washington Capt Campbell"

If anyone is interested in learning more about the Battle of Antietam, please visit a great website "The Civil War Trust"

Hope to see you tomorrow for the letters of the Battle of Antietam, Sept. 17-19th!

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