"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" http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/antietam.html
Hope to see you tomorrow for the letters of the Battle of Antietam, Sept. 17-19th!